What it Means to be Italian!
“Italian Lavender” is the common name for Lavandula stoechas in Australia. It is the ‘name’ species for one of the three main Sections in the genus Lavandula. Section Stoechas. This section is the most widely grown in Australia. All forms are characterised by the large colorful sterile bracts atop the flowers.
This Section includes some of the earliest lavenders to be described. Consequently there has been a great deal of confusion and reviewing with different species being included and then excluded. In 2003/4 Sysyn Andrews and Tim Upson did a full rewrite of the genus. They have placed Lavandula viridis, Lavandula stoechas and Lavandula pedunculata as the three species that make up this Section. This is now well accepted and is consistent with general classifications over the past 100 or so years. For many years though it was felt that there were only the two species, L. viridis and L. stoechas with the latter having numerous sub species.
Lavandula stoechas, also known as French Lavender in Europe, used to include Lavandula pedunculata, but this now a separate species. The distinction is important as the two are quite different and have different cultural requirements. Between the two species there are a further nine sub species and forms – four in each species. Lavandula viridis is still condiered a separate species.
Lavandula viridis is commonly called ‘Green Lavender’. It c omes from the Iberian Peninsula around the southern border between Spain and Portugal. It is distinctive to other lavender in that it has whiet to pale green flowers, sticky-hairy foliage and a strong and pungent fragrance. The oil is very high in camphor and the aroma is almost mentholated. It is this unusual fragrance and the pale green – yellowish flowers that have sometimes given the plant the common name of Lemon Lavender. It also sometimes referred toas yellow lavender. These last two names are not recognised common names but are often used by keen gardeners searching for something a bit different. It is not a popular plant in Australia which is a shame as the color and frgrance with adda different tone to a traditional grey/purple lavender bed. One cultivar is ‘Beverley’.
The important issue surrounding ‘Italian Lvender’ is the weed problem and from that the need for correct naming. Lavandula stoechas is classified as a weed in several states although the issue hasn’t been pushed by the relevant departments. This is partly due to the fact that it unless you know lavender the differences between L. stoechas and L. pedunculata can be blurry. Once the sub species are reviewed it is even more difficult. In Victoria the weed is Lavandula stoechas ssp stoechas. There are not many nurseries that still grow the wild plant. Most are growing hybrids or cultivars.
The sub species are:
L.s. stoechas - the Victorian weed. Numerous cultivars.
L.s s f. leucantha – basically a white form with tight growth and short white flowers. There ae three cultivars on the Australian market: Snowball, Snowman and Willowbridge White.
L.s s f. rosea – basically a rose colred form. Sometimes the color is only in certain parts of the flower. Ranges from soft ping to crimson. Two main cultivars: Kew Red and Swan River Pink
L. s. luiseri an attractive plant that comes from SW Spain and Portugal. Common name in Australia is Portuges Lavender. Taller and more slender than the type. Only cultivar here is Tickled Pink.
The third species and probably the most important to the nursery trade is Lavandula pedunculata. It is sometimes referred to as Spanish Lavender This plant is characterised by the tall slender peduncles (stem between last leaves and flower) and the larger sterile bracts on top of the flower heads. There are five sub species for which the differences are fairly technical. Indeed it can be hard to tell them apart without close examination of flowers and leaves. The five sub species are: L. p. pedunculata, cariensis, atlantica, lusitanica and sampaiana.
Most of the cultivars are from hybrids amongst these sub species and some from crossing back with L. stoechas. These include plants like ‘Avonview’, ‘Major’, ‘Merle’, ‘Marshwood’, ‘Wine’, and all the other tall flowering varieties.
Italian Lavender – Lavandula stoechas – generally compact plant with short peduncles and tight flower heads. Some sub species are weedy and prone to self seeding under dry, exposed conditions.
Spanish Lavender – Lavandula pedunculata – Tall slender plants with long peduncles, long flower heads and large apical sterile bracts. Not prone to self seeding but will cross with other varieties.
Green Lavender – Lavandula viridis - slender light green plant with white to lime green flower heads. Hairy and sticky foliage with a pungent and mentholated fragrance.