Untamed Lowcountry

This plant goes by multiple names, attracts butterflies, and may be source of new drug

Frogfruit has compact clusters of tiny flowers attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.
Frogfruit has compact clusters of tiny flowers attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.

Frogfruit, or Phyla (Lippia) nodiflora, is a rambling, low-growing plant that crops up in Lowcountry lawns, along sidewalks, and in disturbed, sandy areas near marshes and beaches.

Native to the U.S., it’s found throughout most of the southern half of the country, from coast to coast. Its wide range also includes Mexico, Central America and South America, and such far-flung places as the West Indies, Japan, and India.

This unassuming little plant is a wonderful example of the mystery and charm of botanical common names.

Why it’s called frogfruit (also fogfruit) is anybody’s guess. Another colorful name is turkey tangle. Still others are matchweed and match head, since the plant’s compact, stalked clusters of tiny whitish-purple flowers resemble the heads of matches.

A member of the verbena family, frogfruit blooms from summer through fall, and the nectar-rich flowers attract butterflies, small bees and wasps.

The leaves are food for the caterpillars of various butterflies: Phaon Crescents (Phyciodes phaon), Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos). White Peacocks (Anartia jatrophae), and Buckeyes (Junonia coenia).

Both the leaves and the whole plant have been used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments, from snakebite and burns to anorexia, dandruff, fevers, coughs, and acid reflux.

Preliminary chemical analyses suggest that frogfruit contains many substances with potential anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and other medicinal uses.

If frogfruit appears as an unwanted weed in your lawn, consider re-locating it to the garden, where it makes an attractive, perennial ground cover.

In the South Carolina Lowcountry, frogfruit stays green for much of the year, until the weather turns cold. It’s also moderately deer-resistant.

The plant’s only drawback is that it does spread readily, especially if given ample moisture, but this habit can be controlled with pruning, or you can confine it to a pot.