Leonotis dysophylla is a strange plant with its strange and bold appearance. It grows as a weed in waste lands usually untroden for many years. It is also seen growing in old deserted and broken houses where nobody goes. It is also called as Lion’s tail.
Leonotis ocymifolia and L. dysophyla is a slender shrub growing 1 – 5 metres tall, branching from a thick, woody base. The plant is sometimes harvested from the wild and used locally as a condiment and medicine. It is found in India, Eastern and Southern Africa – Sudan to Ethiopia, south and west to Angola and most of southern Africa.
It grows well on rocky outcrops and in well-drained soils on hillsides at elevations from 1,000 – 2,000 metres, but descending to sea level in the south of its range.
According to some researchers, this plant has immense ethno –herbological uses. The resin obtained from its leaves is smoked by some tribals.
This species was originally cultivated as a medicinal herb. The Hottentots tribesmen of South Africa utilize it as an inebriant. It has been touted by some references as a legal substitute for achieving marijuana-like effects when smoked.
Leonotis leonurus is used fairly extensively in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicines. The active compound is an alkaloid called leonurine. Due to its widely documented medicinal properties, L. leonurus should be considered potentially poisonous.
The genus name appears incorrectly as Leonitis in some references. L. ocymifolia is sometimes listed as the scientific name for this taxon. But it is considered by others to be a synonym for Leonotis dysophylla G. Bentham. It is a closely related species that is not as showy in flower.
These two species appear to be somewhat confused in the literature, but can be distinguished by the near linear to oblanceolate leaves and darker colored flowers on L. leonurus compared to the broader ovate to cordate leaves, lighter flower color, and greater cold tolerance with L. dysophylla.