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2011-01-06

Henbit - Texas' two-fer plant

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

To expand on a theme of a gardening website: "Henbit - it's a mint. It's a weed. It's both - two, two, two plants in one!" Be that as it may, not a single website consulted for this article recommended sticking a stem of this mint in your frosty julep.
Also known as Lamium amplexicaule, as well as Henbit Deadnettle, Greater Henbit and Giraffe head, the flowers of this common member of the mint family first appear in late winter or early spring. The plant's purplish-red blossoms serve as early nectar and pollen sources for the area's all-important honeybees.
On the one hand, henbit is often considered an invasive weed, in field crops as well as lawns; however, its edibility and eagerness to thrive in many climes often gives the plant "dispensations" to "bloom and grow forever" even as other weeds are eradicated with vengeance.
As is true of all members of the mint family, this winter annual sports square stems that can reach 16 inches high. Henbit's oppositional leaves measure about five inches long and appear circular to heart-shaped. Fine hairs form on the upper leaf surfaces and along the veins of the lower surface. The leaf margins have rounded teeth.
Typically, numerous flowers occur without stalks as dense whorls at the bases of upper leaves. The slender, individual blooms are fused into a tiny tube approximately two-thirds of an inch long. Some plants self-pollinate and, in those cases, the diminutive flowers do not open.
Equally as miniature, the fruit appears as egg-shaped nutlets two millimeters long. The seeds are brown with white spots. Henbit typically produces from between 50 to 300 seeds, which can germinate in the soil for up to five years.
Although most fond of well-aerated, light, nutrient-rich, sandy loam soils, henbit grows happily throughout a wide range of topography, including open places in managed forests, grazing and vegetable crop fields, orchards, vineyards, gardens, lawns, landscaped areas, fields, pastures and roadsides, as well as in other disturbed, unmanaged areas.
While regarded as a minor weed, henbit adds a nice touch in niche areas of landscaping, especially during the dead of winter when nothing much else grows in the south central region of the Lone Star State.

(Sources: en.wikipedia.org, www.ppws.vt.edu, www.ipm.ucdavis.edu, www.sbs.utexas.edu, www.agroatlas.ru/en/content/weeds/ and www.squidoo.com.)