That Purple

Source:  That Purple    Tag:  dead nettle lamium

This time of year in Central Missouri, fields, yards, waste spots, roadsides, gardens, and all manner of other landscapes can be flooded with that weird cobalt-violet-light that makes your retinas vibrate. It’s really quite magical how the tans, browns, grays, silvers of winter give way to this jazzy color. That special purple.

There are two plants that a lot of people confuse, and we have both of them blooming right now on our front terrace. Both are in the mint family, the Lamiaceae (if you took botany a long time ago, you learned it as the Labiatae, named for the labiate form that characterizes the family’s flowers—the petals are fused at their bases into a tube but have prominent upper and lower “lips”).

Both plants are weedy, branching herbs with square stems and little purple flowers.

First, there’s henbit, Lamium amplexicaule. The upper leaves seem to encircle the stem like a pretty little ruffled collar. I taught myself to remember the name for this by thinking of a frilly collar a farmwife might wear even as she was standing outside broadcasting feed for her chickens—henbit.

The other one is dead nettle, Lamium purpureum. Together, its leaves typically form an attractive, formal-looking pyramidal structure beneath the flowers. I taught myself to remember the name for this by thinking of the Egyptian pyramids—tombs—dead nettle.

So here are some pictures of henbit.
And here are some pictures of dead nettle.

I hope you’re having a good spring. It’s so nice to see these purple friends again, even if they’re supposed to be weeds.