Types Of Lavender Plants (And 4 Important Common Cultivars)

Lavender (Lavandula) is one of the oldest medicinal plants commonly grown for personal enjoyment and economic gain. Even non-gardening enthusiasts can recognize the gorgeous fragrance and subtle elegance of a Lavender plant. Most people assume that Lavender is limited to the characteristic silvery-grey shrub and dainty purple flowers of the English Lavender; however, this assumption is erroneous!

There are over 39 species and 400 types of Lavender plants (cultivars). These Lavender species have been divided into 8 taxonomic groups based on their physical features. The 4 most common types of Lavender are:

  1. Lavandula angustifolia
  2. Lavandula dentata
  3. Lavandula stoechas
  4. Lavandula x intermedia

Lavender is a delightful plant to work with, happily lending itself to the experimentation of gardeners, botanists, and herbalists. The diligent efforts of these individuals have resulted in a bounty of Lavender cultivars guaranteed to astonish and delight enthusiasts!

Related: Lavender Winter Care (#7 Important Tips for Cold Weather Plant Care)

Classification Of Lavender Plants

Lavender belongs to the genus Lavandula of the mint family, Lamiaceae. There are over 39 species of Lavender with more than 400 cultivars.

Originally from the Mediterranean region, invading armies saw the spread of Lavender cultivars to Africa, Europe, and Asia. Lavender cultivars are now grown all over the world, including North America.

Classification of Lavender plants is a hotly debated topic amongst botanists and gardeners alike. The taxonomic confusion regarding Lavender was finally resolved in the early 2000s, and the findings were published in a book, “The Genus Lavandula,” written by Tim Upson and Susyn Andrews.   

Lavender plants are now allocated to one of eight subsections based on their physical characteristics.

Lavender plants are considered herbaceous perennials, although they do not fit neatly within this classification. These plants often develop woody stems (usually a square shape), which may persist for years and show growth patterns more characteristics of an evergreen shrub, i.e., not losing their leaves or dying off during the winter months.

However, the Lavender’s medicinal and culinary uses place them firmly within the herbaceous plant category.

Related: When Does Lavender Grow Back (#1 Important Factors To Know)

The Leaves Of Lavandula

Again, the contrary Lavender defies standard classification principles; their leaves demonstrate a wide variety of shapes and structures. While most Lavender cultivars have a narrow, simple leaf, some cultivars deviated from the norm and have been developed for broader leaves that may be toothed or serrated.

The majority of Lavender cultivars have silvery grey-green leaves. The Lavender leaf’s elegant shape and understated old-world beauty have made it a favorite, with florists creating high-end arrangements.

Although the florists may be fans of the leaves’ pleasing aesthetics, pharmacists and herbalists are enamored with the Lavender plants for another reason.

Covering the Lavender plant in a soft layer of virtually invisible hairs, these trichomes (star-shaped filamentous hairs) surround glands that produce the essential oils for which Lavender has become famous.

The Flowers Of Lavandula

Flowers of lavandula

Like, their leaves Lavender flowers possess an abundance of oil glands. When harvesting Lavender for essential oils, the majority of the oil obtained will be derived from the flowers.

People visiting Lavender farms are unsurprised to discover the iconic lavender aroma permeating the air, but they are surprised to learn that the flowers demonstrate more variation than expected.

The purple of Lavender is so distinctive that entire paint palettes have been named after the plant. While the various notes of purple continue to enjoy popularity amongst Lavender enthusiasts, Lavender cultivars can also be found sporting white, pink, and blue flowers!

The Lavender flowers are situated upon blunt spikes, passing through the foliage. Each spike is responsible for bearing six to ten flower clusters arranged in a whorl pattern. The calyx and corolla of the tiny, fairy-like Lavender flowers form a tubular shape, perfect for offering up their pollen to their many admirers.

The flowers are formed by a cohort of five petals featuring two lobes on the top and three on the bottom. These lobes create the distinctive lip (labia) seen in all plants belonging to the Lamiaceae family.

The Most Common Types Of Lavender Plants

The four most common types of Lavender species grown globally are:

  • English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • French Lavender (Lavandula dentata)
  • Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
  • Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

English lavender

Lavandula angustifolia is one of the three species, and two hybrids belong to the section I of the eight taxonomic categories. The moniker “English”Lavender is somewhat of a misleading misnomer, as English lavender originated in the Mediterranean regions!

Although not native to Britain, English Lavender was christened as such for its popularity amongst the English royals and nobility. English Lavender is also known as Common Lavender, True Lavender, Narrow-Leaved Lavender, and Garden Lavender.

English Lavender traditionally grows to a height of one to two meters (approximately three to six feet) and is considered hardy in USDA zone five to nine. However, there are dwarf, semi-dwarf, and giant cultivars that grow smaller and larger than the traditional English variety.

As one of the most widely researched Lavender types, English Lavender has proven pharmaceutical benefits. English Lavender continues to remain popular with chefs for its culinary uses and perfumers for its calming aromatic properties.

French Lavender (Lavandula dentata)

Types Of Lavender Plants french lavender

Lavandula dentata is the sole occupant of Section II. As one of the species bearing the name French Lavender, Lavandula dentata is not native to France; instead, this plant hails from the Mediterranean Basin, Northeast Africa, and South-Western Arabian Peninsula.

Also known as Fringed Lavender, Lavandula dentata’s Latin name was derived from the characteristic tooth-like leaf edges.

Rated as hardy in USDA hardiness zones eight to eleven, Lavandula dentata prefers to grow in arid regions, thickets, rocky areas, and open woods featuring clay and siliceous soils. Lavandula dentata typically grows to a height of approximately one meter (three feet three inches) and is an evergreen shrub with almost year-round flowering in the ideal conditions.

The robust flowering of French Lavender has made it a popular choice for landscape designers aiming to create a biodiverse landscape.

This Lavender species has few medicinal and culinary uses but can aid a unique scent to potpourri arrangements. Unlike the sweet notes of English Lavender, Lavandula dentata has a subtle herbaceous aroma that smells like a cross between Lavender and rosemary.

Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

Spanish lavender

Lavandula stoechas belongs to section III and originates in the Mediterranean Basin and the Canary Islands. Although primarily known as Spanish Lavender or Butterfly Lavender, confusingly, Lavandula stoechas is also known as French Lavender.

When buying French Lavender from a nursery, always clarify which French Lavender you are purchasing based on the plant’s Latin name. If the label is absent from the plant, flowering Lavandula stoechas is easily distinguished from Lavandula dentata based on their flowers and leaves.

Lavandula dentata features serrated leaves, and Lavandula stoechas has bracts on their flower heads that resemble cute little bunny “ears.” These two simple tricks will help buyers purchase the French Lavender species they want!

Spanish Lavender typically grows to a height of eighty centimeters (approximately two feet seven inches) and is rated as hardy for USDA zones seven to ten. However, the ideal USDA zone is zone eight.

Spanish Lavender has a high menthol content, which creates a distinctive “pine-needle” aroma, different from the rosemary-inclined Fringed Lavender and the sweet notes of English Lavender.

The menthol content of Spanish Lavender makes it unsuitable for culinary uses; however, its quirky flowers and pleasing aroma make it a favorite of both landscapers and aromatherapists.

Lavandula stoecha is the perfect plant for those that can’t decide on their favorite flower color. The bicolor ballerina cultivar of Lavandula stoecha features a deep purple flower cone topped by white bunny-eared bracts. Even the most indecisive gardeners won’t have trouble committing to this charming multi-color plant!

Related: When Does Lavender Grow Back (#1 Important Factors To Know)

Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)

Like, Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula x intermedia belongs to section I Lavandula originating in Central and Southwest Europe.

Unlike the previous Lavender species, Lavandula x intermedia has not been christened with a misleading common name. The common name Lavandin is the only common name recognized for Lavandula x intermedia.

France has had a long and intimate history with commercial Lavender. Before World War One, the French peasantry could make a living by harvesting wild Lavender. However, after the war

, this rural population struggled to survive due to the decimation of much of the farmlands.

A Lavender hybrid was created to aid in uplifting the destitute rural French population. Lavendin is a hybrid of the English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Portuguese Lavander (Lavandula latifolia).

The hybrid plant was developed as a commercial Lavender plant, with higher essential oil yields than Lavandula angustifolia. However, purists will often claim that the oil obtained from Lavandula angustifolia is superior to the oils extracted from Lavandin.

Lavandin is rated as hardy for USDA zones five to nine and tends to be slightly taller (four feet) than wide (three feet three inches).

Like its predecessor, Lavandin can be used as a food flavoring, pharmaceutical, and perfume. Lavandula x intermedia var. Grosso is highly prized by perfumers for its potent aroma.

Conclusion: Types Of Lavender Plants

There are so many types of Lavenders that entire books have been devoted to the subject! Belonging to the genus Lavandula, Lavender boasts more than 30 species and 400 cultivars, with enthusiasts continuing to develop new varieties and hybrids.