At a quick glance, these two common lawn plants are mistaken for one another because they are considered “weeds” and, therefore, not appreciated. Even nature enthusiasts are often tricked by these two closely related plants because they often grow in patches among one another. So let’s take a close look at them, but not in bunches.
How are the plants similar? Well, they both have opposite leaves and square stems. These are two characteristics of plants that are part of the mint family: Lamiaceae (pronounced Lame-E-A-C-E). Other similarities are that they have purple, lipped flowers that grow from the leaf axils, which is the part where the base of the leaf meets the stem of the plant. They are about the same height, approx. 6 and seem to grow in patches, and, as stated above, often mixed with each other. It is no wonder that, without close examination a person can think they are the same. So what are they?
The plant on the top is Lamium purpureum (common name is Purple Dead Nettle) and the bottom plant is Lamium amplexicaule (commonly known as Henbit). As you can see from the first part of both plants’ names, they are from the same genus (Lamium) which, in this case, is also very similar to the family name of the plants (Lamiaceae – remember that???).
Now how are they different? Ah, well this is where close observation is needed. The key main difference with these two plants are in the leaves. Now looking at them pictured above, it may seem obvious. But close together in sprawling patches, this is not so clear. I will refer to each by the common name to further explain. The Purple Dead Nettle has numerous densely packed leaves that point downward. These leaves are also on tiny stalks (or petioles). The stalks are very short on the top leaves and get progressively longer, but are never very long with the exception of the two leaves at the very bottom of the plant. The Henbit has no stalks on the leaves. Another word for this is that the leaves are sessile, or attached right to the stem. The Henbit also has two leaves with very long stalks on the bottom of the plant. The stem of the Henbit is much thinner than the Dead Nettle. The leaves of the Dead Nettle are also often tinged purple. The tube shaped base on the flower of the Henbit is also much longer than the Dead Nettle and there tend to be fewer flowers on Henbit. So based on all this information, can you identify the flower below? The answer is a few lines down after the picture.
Answer: Lamium amplexicaule, commonly known as Henbit! Did you get it right? If not, that’s ok. Practice, practice!