Henbit Dead-Nettle (Lamium amplexicaule)

Deadnettle, Greater Henbit, Henbit, Henbit Dead-Nettle

Henbit deadnettle is a very important part of the North American and Eurasian ecosystems, as it is utilized by bees and other pollinators as a source of nectar. Additionally, the seeds are favored by birds and the leaves, stems, and flowers are edible to humans either raw or cooked.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Lamium amplexicaule, commonly known as common henbit, or greater henbit, is a species of Lamium native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa. The specific name refers to the amplexicaul leaves (leaves grasping the stem).

Henbit is an annual herb with a sprawling habit and short, erect, squarish, lightly hairy stems. It grows to a height of about 40 cm (16 in). The leaves are in opposite pairs, often with long internodes. The lower leaves are stalked and the upper ones stalkless, often fused, and clasping the stems. The blades are hairy and kidney-shaped, with rounded teeth. The flowers are relatively large and form a few-flowered terminal spike with axillary whorls. The calyx is regular with five lobes and closes up after flowering. The corolla is purplish-red, fused into a tube 15 to 20 mm (1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in) long. The upper lip is convex, 3 to 5 mm (1⁄8 to 3⁄16 in) long and the lower lip has three lobes, two small side ones and a larger central one 1.5 to 2.5 mm (1⁄16 to 1⁄8 in) long. There are four stamens, two long and two short. The gynoecium has two fused carpels and the fruit is a four-chambered schizocarp.

This plant flowers very early in the spring even in northern areas, and for most of the winter and the early spring in warmer locations such as the Mediterranean region. At times of year when there are not many pollinating insects, the flowers self-pollinate.

It is widely naturalised in eastern North America and elsewhere. However, its attractive appearance, edibility, and readiness to grow in many climates often mean it is permitted to grow when other weeds are not. This plant, though common, is not regarded as a threat to local ecosystems. It plays an arguably beneficial role in its environment by providing nectar to pollinators and providing forage for animals. The seed is also eaten by many species of birds.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Henbit deadnettle can be planted under shade, although it grows well in sunny locations too. However, if your garden experiences strong summer sunlight, shade henbit deadnettle. Otherwise, its leaves may dry out.

Temperature

Henbit deadnettle is widely distributed in temperate and subtropical regions, and prefers warm conditions. Suitable temperatures for its growth are 16 to 25 ℃, while it can tolerate a low temperature of -34 ℃. Henbit deadnettle prefers moist conditions and can tolerate a certain degree of drought.

Watering

When growing in a shady place, henbit deadnettle does not need too much watering, as natural rainfall can provide all it needs. As a ground cover, henbit deadnettle requires much less water compared to grass, which makes it perfect for homeowners who are aiming at a low-maintenance garden.

However, if it hasn’t rained for a long time, you will need to provide it with additional water. For henbit deadnettle planted in sunny locations, watering once a week is sufficient to keep the soil moist. More frequent watering is needed to provide enough moisture, as well as help cool the plant in summer heat, as low humidity will lead to yellowing of the leaf edges. In winter, henbit deadnettle grows slowly and does not need much water, so you can reduce watering frequency. Keep the soil well-drained, especially during rainy days and in winter; otherwise the soggy soil may cause root rot.

Soil

Henbit deadnettle can grow in many types of soils. The optimal soil is loose, fertile, and well-drained. It prefers slightly acidic conditions, with a suitable soil pH of 6.0-7.0. Lime your garden soil if it is too acidic; similarly, if the soil is alkaline, use more organic fertilizer or soil conditioners, such as a gypsum-based one.

Fertilizing

Henbit deadnettle has little need for additional fertilizer and can grow in poor soil, although it grows better when nutrients are rich. Compost mixed into soil before planting is sufficient for its general needs. If your henbit deadnettle grows too slowly, apply some balanced fertilizer (N-P-K = 10-10-10) to improve it.

Planting Instructions

It is better to plant henbit deadnettle in summer or fall. Select a suitable place in your garden and dig 5 to 8 cm-wide holes to plant your seedlings. You can buy seedlings from a reputable gardening store. Do not plant too deeply, but plant them 8 to 10 cm apart, as henbit deadnettle spreads horizontally rather than vertically. After planting, cover the soil with mulch to reduce evaporation and keep the soil moist.

Pruning

To encourage henbit deadnettle to grow new branches rapidly, remove the top shoots either after blooming or before its growth in spring. If its branches get too dense, prune to one-third of its height in late summer. This can not only protect it from invasion of pests or disease, but also increases the air circulation and light exposure to make it grow healthier. Cutting the scapes promptly after blooming is also important to prevent mold and rot. Trim dried and diseased leaves and branches to reduce pests and diseases.

If you are growing a Lamium species or cultivar with spotted leaves, trim the leaves as soon as the spots fade away. Otherwise, all leaves will gradually turn green, reducing its ornamental value.

Propagation

You can propagate henbit deadnettle by cuttings in spring or fall. This is done by selecting a healthy branch, cutting the leaves at the bottom off, and burying 3/4 of the branch in the soil. To propagate by division, choose a vigorous individual, dig up the whole plant, divide it into clusters with a clean sharp knife, and plant them into soil. Propagation with seeds produced by your henbit deadnettle is not recommended, as the seedlings may not perform as well as parent plants.

Transplanting

The perfect time to transplant henbit deadnettle is during the early stages of growth (S2-S3), as this is when they establish themselves fastest. Choose spots without excessive sunlight, as henbit deadnettle prefers partial shade. For a successful transplant, ensure well-draining, fertile soil. Be mindful, henbit deadnettle is susceptible to overwatering – moderation is key!

Seasonal Precautions

Generally, henbit deadnettle is evergreen, but it may lose leaves if the temperatures get too high in summer or too low in winter. Thus, avoid strong light exposure in summer, and make sure the henbit deadnettle has over 50% shade. After flowering in fall, apply frost protection in your garden, such as bark or straw mulch, or move your potted henbit deadnettle indoors before the early frosts arrive. Ensure good airflow between plants to avoid pests and diseases, and mist to cool it during heat.

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Ornamental uses

You can utilize henbit deadnettle in pollinator gardens, as butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees flock to this delicate plant. Although it has a generally weedy appearance, it becomes a decorative plant when its flowers bloom in the spring. While it can be hard to control, you can plant it in garden beds or use it as a ground cover in areas where other plants don’t grow.

  • Culinary uses

The young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, as can the stems and flowers. Henbit has a slightly sweet and peppery flavor, similar to celery.

IV. Differences between henbit and purple deadnettle plants

Both henbit and purple deadnettle are winter annual weeds that germinate in the fall or winter.  Mild winters can result in both henbit and purple deadnettle getting a head start on turfgrass.

They grow and produce seeds in the early spring and will die off in the late spring and early summer as temperatures rise. They can be found growing in backyards, garden beds, and fallow fields.

These two weeds prefer moist, nutrient-rich soil and will invade any areas where turfgrass is bare. They thrive in cool, spring weather and rain. Shady spots can encourage growth as well.

Like many plants considered weeds, henbit and purple deadnettle are actually a food source for pollinators. These two weeds provide pollen and nectar for honeybees and bumblebees in March and April. The seeds are also eaten by many species of birds.

Both henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) are part of the mint family, which is part of the reason why the two are often mistaken for the other.

To make things more confusing, the two weeds are often found growing together. Here is the breakdown of what sets them apart from each other.

Henbit produces purple tubular flowers at the end of its stems in small whorls. Henbit’s flowers are pink to purple with darker purple spots. Its leaves are scalloped and rounded. The lower leaves have petioles, but their upper leaves do not.

Purple deadnettle likewise produces purple flowers, but its flowers are wider than henbit and are a lighter purple. The leaves of purple deadnettle are triangular with petioles and the leaves tend to have purple coloring, especially closer to the top of the plant. The leaves overlap each other and are also a little fuzzier than henbit leaves.

Henbit Dead-Nettle (Lamium amplexicaule) Details

Common name Deadnettle, Greater Henbit, Henbit, Henbit Dead-Nettle
Botanical name Lamium amplexicaule
Plant type Annual
Growth rate Fast
Sunlight Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Green