Most of us are familiar with lavender, the much-beloved shrub with its distinctive, sleepy scent. This bee-attracting member of the mint family has long been used in soaps, oils, herbal teas and even pillows to induce a good night’s sleep. But are you sure that the clump-forming, purple perennial at the end of your garden is, in fact, lavender?
There are many flowers that share attributes with lavender, but each has its own unique name and identity. Every one of the following plants I have selected in this article, has a specific personal profile with medicinal benefits, divergent leaf patterns, and particular care requirements.
No matter how similar to lavender these blooms appear, with a little careful observation it is easy to decipher what makes them all markedly individual, not only in their appearance, but in their aroma, growing habits, and favoured environments.
Types of Lavender
I’m going to be focusing on all the different varieties of flowers that look like lavender. However, before I begin, I wanted to first establish what the hallmarks of lavender are and the various iterations.
English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Ironically, this is not at all native to England and in fact, comes from the Mediterranean. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to colour as its flowers can be violet, blue or even white pink.
The foliage is a muted grey-green and it is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
French Lavender (Lavandula dentata)
Native to Eastern and Southern Spain, its Latin name refers to the ‘toothed’ leaves which have a scent reminiscent of rosemary.
Its foliage has colourful spikes and bright grey-green leaves and it is hardy through USDA zones 8-9.
Lavandula x intermedia – Lavandin
This is a hybrid of Portuguese and English lavender. It is a popular choice since it has been created to exhibit the indifference to the heat of the Portuguese variety and the cold hardiness of the English.
It produces long spikes of highly scented flowers from white to deep violet. It will thrive in USDA zones 5-9.
Lavandula latifolia – Portuguese Lavender
Another name for this variety is spike lavender. It is native to the western Mediterranean and produces long elegant stems with pale lilac flowers.
It has tough green leaves which are hardy all year through USDA zones 6-8.
Lavandula stoechas – Spanish Lavender
Commonly known as Butterfly Lavender, it is native to North Africa and the Mediterranean.
It has silver-grey foliage which is strongly scented and is renowned for having ‘ears’ on the sides of each flower head! Hardy in USDA zones 8-9.
Flowers That Look Like Lavender
The flowers on the following list are regularly mistaken for lavender but all have unique characteristics and attributes of their own.
With photographs and crucial information about their growing patterns and defining idiosyncrasies, by the end of this article, you’ll be in no doubt as to whether that beautiful purple perennial at the end of the garden is in fact lavender or an impressive imitation!
1. Hyssop (Hyssopus Offcinalis)
- Grows best in full sun
- Easy to grow – hardy and adaptable
- Mildly toxic to dogs and cats if ingested
Like lavender, hyssop is a member of the mint family and has traditionally been used in herbal medicine. Generally found in meadows and sunny woodlands, it is native to southern Europe and western Asia growing best in USDA Zones 4-9. It has also been naturalised in North America.
Hyssop is around 1.5 feet high with slim quadrangle stems and elliptical leaves. It is easy to propagate and grow in full sun with well-drained soil. In fact, it will self-sow if it has the right conditions. It will do well indoors if it has a sunny spot but be aware that it contains a toxin called thujone which has shown some toxicity to pets.
2. Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
- Needs a sunny position
- Very drought tolerant and likes poor soil
- Toxic in large doses
Native to southwestern Asia, Russian sage can thrive in a variety of climates. Hardy through USDA Zones 5-10, this low-maintenance perennial is a great match if you are looking for a lavender substitute.
It has elegant grey-green leaves and very delicate purple-blue flowers distributed in whorls. It is useful for areas which are too cool to grow lavender successfully. The sage reference is due to the sage-like aroma given off when the leaves are crushed.
Although said to be relatively safe, you should nonetheless be vigilant with small children and pets as large amounts can be toxic if ingested.
3. Catmint (Napata)
- Prefers full sun
- Easy to grow once established
- Non-toxic for humans and animals
This low-maintenance perennial enjoys undisturbed areas, wastelands, and riverbanks. It is native to North America, Europe, and parts of China. It is also hardy through USDA Zones 3-9.
Its foliage is often described as ‘fuzzy’ and it has scented, green-grey leaves with scalloped edges. It will produce aromatic flower spikes which are blue, white, pink, or lilac.
Easy to propagate by slicing off a 3-inch vertical section with undeveloped shoots and by planting well in good draining soil.
You may already know that Catmint is cat-friendly, but dogs like it too! It is non-toxic to humans and animals alike.
4. Rosemary (Rosemarinus officianalis)
- Best in a sunny, sheltered position
- Low-care and drought resistant
The Mediterranean origins of this bushy evergreen shrub explain why it prefers sunny, humid weather and loves warm coastlines as well as rocky cliffs. However, it is adaptable and can survive very well in USDA Zones 8 through 9.
Its needle-shaped leaves are attached along woody, angular stems and it will produce groups of delicate flowers which appear white, blue, pink, or violet.
This aromatic wild plant is considered low-maintenance due to its root system being markedly deep. It is not only resistant to drought but also quite capable of enduring a tenacious frost.
Easy to propagate, the University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends taking 4-6’ cuttings from a ripe shoot in late spring or early summer.
A potential blight to avoid is leaving insufficient space for Rosemary roots to spread due to overcrowding in receptacles which are too small. When roots become congested, it is difficult to keep it well-hydrated.
5. Purple Salvias
- Does best with 6-8 of full sun each day
- A favourite with gardeners – very easy to grow
- Non-toxic to pets and humans
Purple Salvia flourishes natively in the moist, shady forests of Mexico and southern California.
It can grow up to 1.5 metres high and produce attractive violet flowers of a vivid hue when conditions are favourable. When these flowers are contrasted with their almost black stems, it is even more extraordinary.
An easy perennial to grow, Purple Salvia will flower throughout the entire summer with minimal care and make a beautiful border and a veritable hunting ground for butterflies and bees.
They can even thrive in drought conditions as long as faded flowers are removed to encourage more blooms.
Most varieties remain hardy throughout USDA Zones 5-9. This visually appealing herbaceous shrub is non-toxic for your family including pets.
- Best in full sun
- Quick to grow but requires a little care and attention to bloom
- Toxic to pets
The Wisteria genus consists of 4 species which are native to Japan, Vietnam, Korea, China, the Eastern United States, Southern Canada, and Northern Iran.
A vigorous climber, especially in USDA Zones 5-9 Wisteria prefers humidity but can tolerate drier climates when watered regularly.
By receiving adequate sunlight, Wisteria will reward the onlooker with purple, pink or white cascades of tumbling flowers, and a delicate scent which is reminiscent of Lilac but even sweeter.
Curiously, Wisteria is a member of the legume family and produces pods like peapods which ripen in autumn. These pods along with the bark, seeds, stems and leaves are highly poisonous and can cause severe stomach upset, nausea and inflammation if consumed.
The only parts of the plant which have proved digestible are the flower petals, which are often used, along with Roses, in tea-making.
7. Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
- Thrives in the full morning sun
- Fast to grow if in a sheltered, warm and sunny spot
- Non-toxic and safe for dogs and cats to eat in small quantities
Basil loves warm weather, but full exposure to an intense midday sun may be too much of a good thing. Consider providing basil plants with some filtered shelter during the harsh peak hours of the day, or move them to a cooler area to avoid wilting and scorching of leaves.
At first glance, it can be difficult to see the similarity to lavender in the humble basil plant, but once it blooms, it produces an uncanny likeness through its incredible purple flowers.
It is generally agreed that the closest match to lavender is the Tulsi variety, also known as Holy Basil.
Basil needs well-drained soil and plenty of sun, outside meridian hours. I recommend simultaneously growing 7-10 plants to strengthen the chances of success and avoid planting basil too early as this can leave it vulnerable to an extended spring frost.
This delightful aromatic herb does well in USDA Zones 10b-11 but can thrive if grown indoors on a sunny windowsill.
Basil is non-toxic to dogs, cats and humans. It is also cited as having anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial benefits.
8. Victoria Salvia (Victoria farinacea)
- Grow in full sun to light shade
- Low-maintenance, pest and disease resistant
- Non-toxic to people, dogs and cats
Also known as ‘Mealycup Sage’, this robust perennial can endure drought-like conditions to survive a long growing season.
If living somewhere with extreme heat, a modicum of shade in the afternoons will mitigate any wilting, but 6-8 hours of sunlight a day is a requirement for optimum results.
With an impressive tolerance for both humid and arid conditions, Victoria Blue nonetheless needs space for air to circulate.
A mild 10-10-10 fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season will help maintain its decorous appearance long after the blooming season has elapsed.
It can grow 24 inches in height and produce intense violet, blue, pink, red, or white flowers, offset visually by its much darker stems. These blooms grow atop lance-shaped flower spikes, acting as magnets to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Winter-resistant throughout USDA Zones 8-10, this hardy fellow member of the mint family is often mistaken for lavender.
Agastache Blue Fortune (Agastache foeniculum)
- Thrives In full sun
- Easy to grow – no special skills required
- Non-toxic to humans and animals
This North American hybrid can be found along streams, mountain tops and grassy banks. Easy and rewarding to grow, it is considered a favourite amongst gardeners as well as the butterfly, bee and hummingbird community.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9, the Agastache blue fortune is a long bloomer, especially if you remember to deadhead past mid-summer. It is remarkably adaptable and will happily bask in the hottest day of the year without detriment.
With thick spikes of blue-lilac blooms which are tightly packed in tubular clumps, it makes an ideal border for sheltered and sunny spots. It is vigorous, tolerant of cold and emits a mint-liquorice scent when handled.
Propagate using semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or in winter if using a greenhouse.
Agastache blue fortune is non-toxic and both the flowers and leaves can be used in salads and teas.
10. Hebe ‘Garden Beauty Blue’ (Veronica speciosa)
- Grows in full direct sun
- Easy to grow once established – can withstand strong winds
- Contains some toxins
This compact, evergreen shrub likes full sun but can cope with partial shade. They do particularly well in coastal and alpine areas and are hardy through USDA Zones 8a-10b.
Hebe ‘garden beauty blue’ is a wonderful pollinator and irresistible to wildlife. From late spring to mid-summer, it will display a profusion of violet-blue flowers which will not fade until September.
Demanding very little care, this plant can thrive on neglect and in poor soil as long as it is well-drained.
Hard pruning can rejuvenate a hebe which appears to have seen its last summer and practically bring it back from the dead.
It can easily be propagated from softwood cuttings placed in a propagation tray on a windowsill with a clear polythene covering.
Known to contain toxic chemicals, it is best to keep away from children and animals.
11. Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
- Best in full sun
- Relatively easy to grow with a little patience
- Non-toxic to humans and pets
Mexican bush sage is a shrubby perennial native to tropical and subtropical forests in Central and Eastern Mexico. It is a drought-tolerant, evergreen plant that will do well in USDA Zones 8-11.
Rising to a height of 1.2 metres, flowers appear in groups at different points along the stem. With a soft, velvety texture, the blooms are a mass of bold, bright purple from late summer to late Fall making Mexican bush sage a favourite among gardeners and landscapers.
Propagating could not be easier. Take cuttings from the mother plant before the frost and start them off in water or soil.
12. Liatris (Liatris spicata)
- Best in full sun
- Easy to grow almost anywhere
- Non-toxic to humans and animals
Liatris is commonly found in rocky and sandy soils enjoying lots of light and well-drained neutral PH soils. It loves summer heat and copes with high humidity – it is a prairie plant, so will take all the warmth it can get.
Working well as a border, the bold, vertical accent reaches heights of 36-48 inches and is perhaps the tallest of the Liatris family.
Beloved by bees and butterflies, the striking purple blooms demonstrate why it is colloquially known as a ‘blazing star’.
North Carolina State University recommends planting in full sun or partial shade, 5 inches deep. Cluster 3 to 5 plants together around 6-8 inches apart.
Very hardy through USDA Zones 4-10 even in winter. It has been coined ‘the tank plant’ as it is practically indestructible.
You may also like to read Lavender Companion Plants | Good and The Bad
Flowers That Look Like Lavender FAQ
Which flower looks the most like Lavender?
When it comes to lavender alternatives, Catmint (Nepeta cataria) with its silver-grey foliage, and cloudy, purple blooms is a great stand-in. It works especially well in regions that are not conducive to growing lavender because it is much less fussy and considered almost indestructible.
Catmint has a slightly sweeter smell but both are members of the mint family, have medicinal benefits and enjoy very similar growing conditions.
Wisconsin Horticulture – Rosemary, Rosemarinus officinalis
NC Extension – Liatris
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.