Friday, May 9, 2008
What’s in a name? A long time ago I read that “that which we call a rose by any other name is just as likely to be scratched up by the hens.” The henbit, on the other hand, is named because it was thought to be a morsel for hens. I couldn’t find any documentation supporting this, only that the bits the hens are looking for are the seeds. I did find a blog entry written by a keeper of free-range hens who said that her hens do peck at the henbit but show no particular preference for it.
Henbit has the scientific name Lamium amplexicaule where the genus name is from the Greek work laimos meaning throat. This is a reference to the long tube formed by the flower petals. The common name of Giraffe Head reflects another view of this long tube. When viewed from the right angle, with just a little imagination, the long-necked flowers have the profile of a giraffe head.
Amplexicaule comes from two Latin words; amplexus meaning clasping and caul meaning stem. This refers to the upper leaves that hug the stem. Henbit along with several other plants including all members of the genus Lamium are known as dead-nettles because they look a little bit like stinging nettles but they don’t sting.
Family and origin. Henbit is a member of the mint family. It is native to North Africa, western Asia and Europe. It is now widespread in North America and can be found coast to coast.
Reputation. Henbit can become invasive and is considered a weed in some areas of the country. There are lots of references on the web about how to get rid of it from your lawn but it has its good side too. The USDA says that is useful in erosion control on crop fields in the southern U.S. In areas where it’s prolific, it is an early food source for bees. One man’s weed is another man’s wildflower.
When and where seen. There is a small bit of Henbit beside the windowless sewage treatment building on the road up to the Banta-Davis playing fields. It was blooming on April 26 when the flowers first caught my eye and was still in bloom on May 4.
Distinguishing characteristics. Henbit is a low sprawling plant. It has two kinds of leaves. The lower ones have stalks and the upper ones are true to their name amplexicaule. Like other members of the mint family, the stalks are square. The flowers are pink to purple and arranged in whorls. They have a long narrow tube which opens with an upper hood and a lower jutting lip. The hood has a mohawk-style tuft of magenta hair along the top. Henbit is a winter annual. The seeds germinate in the fall and flowers are out by April.
Sources. Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States, Carol H. Woodward & Harold William Rickett; Newcombe’s Wildflower Guide, Lawrence Newcomb; Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at www.ppws.vt.edu/ (search on henbit).∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito