What is Lavender Cotton?

Amanda R. Bell

Lavender cotton, also known as santolina chamaecyparissus, is a mound-forming shrub with gray leaves and tiny yellow flowers. It typically blooms in mid-spring, but it can bloom as late as the end of summer. Its leaves are covered in an aromatic white down that produces fragrance nearly year round. It is native to the Mediterranean and grows well in sandy or loamy soil in sunny locations.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Lavender cotton is a perennial that grows in height between 12 inches and 18 inches (30 cm to 45 cm). While technically an herb, it is most often used for ornamental purposes, especially in drought-stricken areas. Once established, this plant can grow well in any dry and sunny location, especially along walls. While not necessary, this plant can be shaped to keep it looking neat.

Gardeners typically use this plant as edging, as ground cover or as part of a rock garden. When used as an edging plant, it should be planted approximately 18 inches (45 cm) apart. While lavender cotton usually does well without watering if there is a minimal amount of rain, the plant should be watered every two weeks during periods without rain. This ornamental herb is meant for dry locations, so the soil in which it is planted needs to have good draining to counteract lavender cotton's susceptibility to root rot.

Although this plant is typically used for ornamental purposes, also has some practical purposes. It was used in the 1600s as a salve for bug bites, and it is most commonly used to repel moths. Despite the rather unpleasant smell of the flowers, drying them eliminates this smell and makes them a good addition to potpourri. Fresh foliage and flowers from lavender cotton can also make interesting and beautiful additions to cut flower arrangements.

There are five common species of lavender cotton. Lemon Queen has bright green foliage and cream-colored flowers, while Neapolitana has lime green flowers. Nana lavender cotton is smaller than average, as is the Weston variety, both only growing to be about 10 inches (25 cm) in height. Virens have the least aromatic leaves of the bunch, though they are the tallest, growing up to 24 inches (60 cm) in height.

Lavender cotton, used in English gardens since the 16th century, makes an interesting addition to almost any garden. It is easy to grow and easy to maintain. The aromatic silver leaves are a good accompaniment to rose gardens and, when planted near entrances and windows, can make a home smell wonderful.

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Discussion Comments


I heard that some who are not very experienced with essential oils recommend the use of lavender cotton oil for aromatherapy. You should not deal with lavender cotton oil for any reason because its very toxic and can be dangerous. Do not purchase it for aromatherapy purposes or keep any in your home. There are many safe oils that can be used for massage, aromatherapy, even skin treatments, this one is not one of them. I just wanted to clear the air for anyone who was wondering.


Santolina lavender cotton was so abundant in Italy when we visited. It was found in most of the yards and smelled so nice and fresh in the evenings. I think Italian families planted them on purpose around the house to keep insects away. Italians love having summer meals in the yard. I actually made a fool of myself because I thought that lavender cotton and lavender were from the same family. I was commenting on how it didn't smell or look like lavender at all when my boyfriend told me that it's a different plant. Oops!

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