As Winter fades and we anticipate the coming of Spring on March 20, did you know that Metrological Spring occurred on March 1? According to the Weather Channel, Meteorological Spring has to do with monthly weather keeping and annual temperature cycle.
It seems that Spring has already arrived! Along with the burst of spring color coming from daffodils, flowering cherries, the scourge of Bradford Pears (ugh), Loropetalum and forsythia, two annual weeds have colored up in the lawn and the landscape.
These two “poultry” themed winter annuals, Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule L.) and Common Chickweed (Stellaria media (L.) Cyrillois) are now flowering. They are both winter annuals and have a life cycle opposite from summer annuals. Winter annuals germinate in the late summer and early fall months, reside quietly in the lawn and landscape during the winter and get their plant mojo on when winter temperatures start to moderate. They die off in the late spring or early summer when high temperatures arrive.
You might have noticed patches of a low growing, up to 12 inches tall, pink/purple plant in lawns, roadsides, cropland, pastures, disturbed areas, and in gardens. The reddish-purple flower color comes from Henbit, a member of the mint family. Although a member of the mint family, it does not have a strong or distinctive mint scent.
Henbit is easy to recognize because of its greenish to purplish, tender, four-sided stems. Its leaves are opposite on the stem, broadly egg-shaped with bluntly toothed margins, and prominent veins on underside. Henbit flowers are reddish-purple with darker coloring in spots on lower petal, arranged in whorls. Because it is an annual, it reproduces by seed.
The best time to try to control henbit in the lawn is in the fall with an application of a winter preemergence herbicide applied the mid to late fall. The long-term solution is to grow a thick healthy turf by correct fertilization and mowing practices. This will crowd it out. Control in the spring is by hand pulling or selective and careful use of a post emergence broad-leafed herbicide spray or granular. There are a number of herbicide formulations on the market for homeowners to use. Read and follow the herbicide label correctly to prevent damage to desirable plants.
Henbit got its common name well because chickens like to eat it. As with a lot of our “weeds,” henbit is not native to the U.S. but to Eurasia and Northern Africa. In those countries it is eaten raw or cooked and as a salad green. It is also said to have some medicinal value. Henbit can be an early source of pollen and nectar for honey and bumble bees. Hummingbirds also like it.
Common chickweed is a mat forming winter annual with numerous branched stems. Leaves are opposite, smooth, oval to broadly elliptic in shape. Its flowers are not as noticeable as Henbit. Chickweed flowers are found in small clusters at the ends of stems. They are white, with five deeply notched petals. Its botanical genus name is Stellaria. Stellaria is derived from the word ‘stellar’ meaning ‘star’, which is a reference to the shape of its flowers. As a winter annual it also reproduces by seed. Control for Chickweed is the same as for Henbit. And yes, chickens do like to eat it.
Like Henbit, Chickweed is native to Eurasia and naturalized throughout the world. It can be found in lawns, meadows, waste places, and in the garden. It tolerates a number of different growing sites and does well in wet, shady areas. I even have Chickweed that overwinters in my raised beds. As a low, spreading plant it also grows well in short, mowed Bermuda and zoysia lawns.
Also, like Henbit, Chickweed is considered an edible herb in Europe where it is added to salads. According to Clemson University Extension, “It is said to have a mildly floral, grass-like flavor likened to corn silks. It can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable.” Not that I am going to eat it. The Clemson publication states, “The weed also serves as a host plant for the larva of the Venerable Dart and Chickweed Geometer moths. The flowers provide nectar for elfin butterflies, syrphid flies and other beneficial insects.”
That’s good to know as it is important for us to provide food sources in our landscapes for the native pollinators. Sorry, though, Chickweed is coming out of my raised beds and I prefer my vegetables.
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