by Pettus Read
As I have been driving the back roads of Tennessee the last few days, I have noticed an interesting purple hue forming across the landscape of our state's countryside. A purple flower that has taken over fields, yards and spaces that once contained vegetation of some type in months past is forming this amazing early spring hue and it is not going unnoticed. It is starting to cause a lot of talk around gathering places that often have been used for other conversation rather than purple flowers on weeds. But, sure enough, grown men have started questioning why Henbit is taking over. I have seen this plant all of my life, but until just this spring I have never seen it cover almost everything around the homestead and it's even showing up statewide. Whenever I have major weed questions to occur, I go to a book given to me and autographed by Edward W. Chester back in 1997. Mr. Chester and William H. Ellis are the creators of "Wildflowers of the Land Between The Lakes Region, Kentucky and Tennessee" and the book is a must to help identify growing wildflowers in our state. The book was created for the Center for Field Biology at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. And, before you start calling me asking where you can get this book, I suggest you contact APSU in Clarksville and I know they would be glad to help you.
My copy is a treasured item used by both my wife and myself around the farm and I sure wouldn't part with it.
The book says that Henbit is a member of the mint family and its name is really Lamium. If you want the full Latin name it is Lamium amplexicaule L., but for my purpose of usage, it will be plain old Henbit. The book suggests that it got its common name due to chickens liking the early spring foliage which normally appears in April through early summer, but may also appear in March, which it has accomplished this year. It germinates in the fall, and due to the warm, dry weather we experienced late last year, could be why we are seeing so much of it this spring. We also had a chance to harvest most fields early last fall, allowing for a perfect place for all the Henbit seed to germinate in abundance. This is one reason you see fields of the flowers blooming. It is a plant that has been with us for sometime with its origin in Eurasia and Africa.Being very aggressive, it has spread throughout Tennessee and most of North America. It is almost a perfect plant when it comes to survival.
The University of Missouri reports that the plant is tolerant of sun or shade, heat or cold. From a report I found on the Internet, they seem to echo what we are seeing here in the Volunteer state. They said, "In cultivated areas that get tilled regularly, the plant can form large 'seas of pink' in the spring. The plant can grow from small pieces of its stem, so chopping the plant only helps it spread. It also grows well from seed." This purple aggressor has more than a few names. Besides Henbit, it may also go by chickweed, which I guess the example quoted earlier here about the chickens liking it, helps verify the two names. Whichever name you use, if you ever have to pull it out of a garden or flowerbed by hand, you may also give it a few names of your own.
The good news I found out in my Henbit facts search, is that as a winter annual, they are more noticeable in the year of their establishment. As grasses grow, fields are planted, and turf density increases after being worked and renovated, Henbit will not persist after the following spring. This could be one of our most noticeable years of the purple hue plague. However, that is my speculation and not from a real weed professional. I do have a degree in plant and soil science, but I also have the ability to kill helpless plants at times, not really meaning to, so my opinion is just as good as anyone's.Enjoy the "seas of purple and pink" this spring and just use it as a sign of spring making its return. Hopefully, Henbit will not be a major problem and come summer its presence will only be a photograph or memory.