Taxonomy of Lamb's Ear Plants:
Plant taxonomy classifies lamb's ear plants as Stachys byzantina. The common name is given variously as "lamb's ear" or "lamb's ears." The singular may follow traditional usage more closely, but I favor the plural as being more descriptive (after all, this perennial favorite has more than one "ear").
Although grown more for the texture and color of its foliage than for its bloom, lamb's ears does produce light purple flowers on tall spikes. Its texture can best be described as "fuzzy" or "velvety." Lending further interest to the foliage is its silvery color. The flower spikes reach 12"-18" in height, but the rest of the plant stays much closer to the ground.
Planting Zones for Lamb's Ear Plants:
Stachys byzantina can be grown in planting zones 4-7.
Sun and Soil Requirements:
Grow lamb's ears in full sun in northerly climes. In desert areas, though, it can profit from partial shade. This perennial flower thrives in poor soil that is well-drained. Treat it as you would any plant (many herbs fall into this category) associated with a Mediterranean climate.
Uses for Lamb's Ear Plants in Landscape Design:
Stachys byzantina plants are widely used in borders. They spread readily, making them effective groundcovers, if you don't mind them taking over. As drought-tolerant perennials, they are candidates for rock gardens. Their silvery color is fun to play with when experimenting with color theory in your landscape design. Stachys byzantina plants are also deer-resistant.
Caveats in Growing Lamb's Ear Plants:
Lamb's ears are considered invasive plants.
Care for Lamb's Ears:
Avoid watering Stachys byzantina overhead, as the leaves will rot if they get too wet. For the same reason, avoid crowding to promote sufficient air circulation.
Origin of the Name for Lamb's Ears:
The common name is descriptive: lamb's ears produces leaves with a shape similar to that of an real lamb's ears; they're also velvety soft, further lending themselves to the comparison. The first half of the scientific name is also descriptive. The genus name, Stachys, is Greek for "an ear of grain," referring to the shape of the flower spikes. The specific epithet, byzantina, refers to the plant's Middle Eastern origin, including an area that was once part of the Byzantine Empire.
A Note on the "Texture" of Lamb's Ear Plants:
When we speak of "texture" in landscape design, we are usually referring to contrasting leaf-forms. But the foliage of lamb's ears has an interesting "texture" in the more usual sense of that term. Upon seeing the foliage, one is tempted to reach out and stroke it.