Monday, April 14, 2014

2 Spring Mints

Purple Dead-nettle and Henbit comparison of stalks and leaves

Purple Dead-nettle and Henbit growing together in my yard
     Two early spring mints are commonly confused for each other in many of our yards. Both Purple Dead-nettle Lamium purpureum and Henbit Lamium amplexicaule can often be found growing right next to each other and share several similarities, which is not surprising since they are in the same genus. Both are annuals and well established non-natives originally from Eurasia. Both have square stems typical of mints, but lack the minty smell. Both bloom fairly early in the season and are usually less than a foot tall. Both also are considered edible, but I don't them find terribly appetizing myself (although the flowers from Purple Dead-nettle are slightly sweet if I could ever figure how to harvest enough of them).
     Henbit can usually be told apart from the other by its scalloped leaves that grow in whorls around the stem, the upper ones grasping it and appearing to be stalkless. The species name amplexicaule means  "clasping the stem" and is very descriptive of this main way to tell identify this plant. Because they bloom so early and pollinators may not be available, they are able to self-pollinate as well.
     Purple Dead-nettles have their leaves in clumps, especially near the top, and have short stalks connecting the leaves to the stem. The leaves are often a purplish or dark color. The unusual name is derived in that these plants are thought by some to resemble nettles but are "non-stinging" and thus termed "dead."
     While often considered garden weeds and even invasive by some, these plants are well established and often grow in waste places where few other things thrive. They can be found growing from cracks in the sidewalk and may provide an early nectar source to the earliest pollinators, providing some early spring color in places few other plants can survive.