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Focus on flora: Sea lavender on Grand Cayman

By Shannon Schmidt

Plants, especially tropical varieties, usually attract attention for their flowers, but there are many other plants out there that deserve attention for their special qualities as well.

Sea lavender, or Argusia gnaphalodes, is an amazing specimen which draws you in with its pleasantly blue-grey velvety soft leaves and its sweet aroma. Its little flowers are quite inconspicuous, but add a nice touch of contrast floating gently about the leaves.

Native to the Caribbean, sea lavender is a low mounding/sprawling evergreen shrub that is extremely tolerant of drought, salt and wind, making it perfect for a coastal garden.

Planted in masses or as a standalone shrub, sea lavender is a proven winner in the tropics. It prefers full sun, but can handle a bit of dappled shade. However, it must have sandy, free-draining soil because it is very susceptible to root rot.

After it is established, it is virtually maintenance free unless you want to use it as a hedge with a desired height in mind.

Requiring very little (if any) added nutrients, the year-round bloomer will begin to spread over time and can be propagated by cuttings. Since it thrives in sandy soils it is often used as a dune stabiliser, or to slow erosion. The small whitish-pink flowers with a yellow/green throat develop into a nice small fruit. Inside the fruit is a corky substance that helps it float and disperse through the ocean.

Although the flowers do have a mild, sweet fragrance, sea lavender did not earn its name for its lavender scent, but rather for its resemblance to the lavender plant which also has soft, blue-grey leaves.

Another interesting fact about sea lavender, which is unlike nearly any other plant, is that it should be planted deep. In general, planting too deep suffocates a plant’s roots, but since sea lavender grows in free-draining sand, planting it too shallow will dry out the roots and stress the plant. Although sea lavender is perhaps a bit fickle in the beginning, the payoff is well worth it.

You can find sea lavender in Camana Bay in the beds near the entrance of the bridge to the island in the harbour.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Focus on Flora: Sea Lavender.”

Shannon Schmidt

About the author

Shannon Schmidt is the Horticulture Manager at Dart’s Arboretum Services Ltd. Joining Dart in 2012, Shannon previously worked in parks, public gardens and tourism properties, among others. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Shannon loves island life, spending time paddleboarding around the canals and mangroves, in the sea, and spending time outdoors with her two energetic Boston Terriers Nollie and Ebbie and her equally energetic partner Chase! Shannon holds a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management from The Pennsylvania State University and a Diploma in Horticulture from the Longwood Gardens Professional School of Horticulture, and loves spending time swinging in a hammock, with her favourite smoothie from Jessie’s Juice Bar and reading material from Books & Books.