Desert Lavender

(Condea emoryi)

Several years ago, I attended my first Lavender Festivals at Highland Springs Ranch & Inn. It was one of the best experiences I ever had with plant purposing.  I came home determined to grow lavender, not for distillation as was  demonstrated, but to have and enjoy a garden of beautiful light green plants with lovely purple flowers to attract pollinators and smell heavenly when brushed  against or brought inside and dried!

Fast forward 10 years and the few varieties of lavendula I tested were a dead and bitter failure.  Our Southern California inland chaparral  climate was not realistic for the dainty darlings I was attempting to grow. And despite the ample shade provided, I was not willing to supply gallons of water to them: that wasn’t sustainable. So I gave up.

But luckily, there exists in the SoCal, Arizona, Northern Mexico, Baja, and Nevada deserts a native plant that smells like lavender!  It is in the Mint family, like sages and lavenders, but thrives  in dry sunny conditions. Desert  Lavender, Condea emoryi, aka Hyptis emoryi, has tiny purple flowers that insect pollinators love and pale green fragrant foliage. It is a tall, drought tolerant shrub that easily replaces the lavender niche in the garden palette. Because it grows tall and narrow, it can serve quite nicely as a border hedge or center piece in a moon garden.

I also found that the dried leaves make for a wonderful, personal holiday gift.  Last winter, I trimmed my two lavenders, dried the leaves, then put the leaves into sachet bags to give as holiday gifts. This was so popular with friends and family that I gave away more branch cuttings so they could make their own sachets!  I had plenty to share and was glad to give away prunings rather than composting the fragrant leaves.

So despite the dramatically different appearance of desert lavender from its distant cousins, it really can be used and enjoyed aromatically to bring peace and tranquility  to one’s busy life.


About the Author:

Kay is a retired school teacher and holds a Certificate in Field and Nature Studies.  She has a passion for botany, native plants and permaculture.