The genus includes both herbaceous plants and shrubs growing to 0.5–2 m (1.6–6.6 ft) tall. Their common names are shrub verbenas or lantanas. The generic name originated in Late Latin, where it refers to the unrelated Viburnum lantana.
Lantana's aromatic flower clusters (called umbels) are a mix of red, orange, yellow, or blue and white florets. Other colors exist as new varieties are being selected. The flowers typically change color as they mature, resulting in inflorescences that are two- or three-colored. A common name for Lantana camara is "Ham 'n Eggs" due to the adjacent pink and yellow inflorescences.
The spread of lantana is aided by the characteristic of their leaves, which are somewhat poisonous to most animals, while their fruit is a delicacy for many birds which distribute the seeds. Birds like the Yellow-fronted White-eye of Vanuatu, the Superb Fairy-wren in Australia, or the Mauritius Bulbul in the Mascarenes thus unwittingly contribute to the degradation of their home ecosystem.