What is Desert Lavender?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Desert lavender is a compact shrub found in the deserts of the American Southwest. This desert wildflower is very popular with bees and butterflies in its native range and can be used as a landscaping plant in regions with climates similar to that found in its home regions in Arizona, Mexico, and other areas of the Southwest. Nurseries and gardening catalogs may make seedlings available and it is also possible to propagate desert lavender from cuttings, for people who have access to mature plants.

Desert lavender attracts butterflies.
Desert lavender attracts butterflies.

Known formally as Hyptis emoryi, desert lavender is in the same family as true lavender. It produces gray-green, lightly serrated foliage and sprays of tiny purple flowers. When crushed, the foliage emits a scent similar to lavender or sage. Plants can grown as tall as 9 feet (3 meters) tall and tend not to spread more than 9 feet (1 meter), depending on the conditions where they are grown.

Bees are attracted to desert lavender.
Bees are attracted to desert lavender.

This plant can be grown in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 10. Like other desert plants, it has adapted for extreme heat and cold and can handle frost, although severe cold weather may cause the plant to die back to the ground. Although it appears dead, the root system and base are intact and the plant should return in the following year, often very robustly. Desert lavender is also very drought tolerant and is well suited to low-water gardens and xeriscaping schemes.

When planting desert lavender, a sunny area of the garden should be selected. The plants can grow in shade but will be more leggy, with less foliage. The plants prefer well-drained soil of medium quality. Watering needs are light through the spring and summer and should be tapered off in the fall. When watered, the plant tends to produce new foliage and will grow larger. Reducing watering in the fall reduces the risk of frost damage to new foliage, as the plant will go slightly dormant.

These plants can be grown in massed beds or used as specimen plantings. Planting them near paths or other areas frequented by people is recommended so people can enjoy the subtle scent. Desert lavender can be grown in containers as well as directly in the ground, and it does not need to be pruned, as it has a naturally compact growth habit. If the plant starts to sprawl or more shaping is desired, pruning should be done in the spring.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I'm not very fond of desert lavender. It doesn't look that great because the plant itself is gray and the purple flowers are very small. It's a strong plant and resistant to drought. But unless they're planted in large amounts and in close proximity, they don't look very appealing. Plus, it gathers all the bees.


@donasmrs-- I don't think that desert lavender is as scented as English and French lavender. I'm sure you can use them in sachets but the scent will probably not last as long as you expect.

I think desert lavender is beautiful to look at. It's great for landscaping like the article said. In the garden, it emits a nice scent when you're near the flowers or when the wind blows.

I have some desert lavender in my garden and I like the flowers a lot. But I personally haven't thought about doing anything with them. Let me know if they work out well for sachets or for anything else.


We have some desert lavender growing near our house. I discovered them recently and I'm very excited about it because I love lavender.

Can desert lavender be use the same way as true lavender? I plan on making lavender sachets to use in drawers and pillows.

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