How to Identify Red Deadnettle

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A cluster of plants with green and purple heart-shaped leaves and pink flowers, with blades of grass peeking between the plants, for article on red deadnettleName: Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

Range and typical habitat(s): Native to large areas of Europe and Asia. Introduced invasive in United States, New Zealand, and  scattered areas of South America

A white background with a green, heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges for article on red deadnettleDistinguishing physical characteristics (size, colors, overall shapes, detail shapes): Keep your eyes on lawns, gardens, roadsides, and other sunny areas this spring, and you may very well see the green and purple foliage of red deadnettle. These heart-shaped leaves with softly serrated edges are covered in fine hairs. Leaves near the top of the slender, square-shaped stem are more of a reddish purple hue, while lower, larger leaves are a medium green. The leaves rarely exceed an inch and a half in length, and are attached to the stem with a slender stalk. Each leaf has palmate veins–several primary veins all starting near the stem–branching off multiple times into a reticulated network of smaller veins.

A close-up view of green heart-shaped leaves with pink, trumpet-shaped flowers growing underneath them for article on red deadnettleAt the top of the stem, which may be almost a foot long in extraordinary specimens, you may find tiny pinkish purple trumpet-shaped flowers. A close look reveals one large petal at the top, two smaller ones at the bottom, and sometimes a few tiny ones in the space in between. While flowers are easily in evidence this time of year, red deadnettle may flower in other seasons if conditions are favorable. As it is an annual, it will die back in fall, but new generations are quick to germinate before winter sets in. For those wishing to remove it from their gardens, the shallow root systems mean that it is easy to pull up, especially in wet soil.

Red deadnettle is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). While it resembles a very tiny stinging nettle (Urtica spp.), its tiny hairs do not cause irritation, hence being described as “dead”. Other common names for this plant include purple deadnettle and purple archangel.

A close-up with green, rounded leaves with scalloped edges, with three pink, trumpet-shaped flowers growing erect at the top for article on red deadnettle
Note how henbit’s leaves and flowers are shaped and arranged differently than deadnettle’s.

Other organisms it could be confused with and how to tell the difference: Purple henbit (Lamium amplexicale) is the most common lookalike for red deadnettle. They inhabit the same habitat types and are of similar size and colors. Upon closer inspection, the leaves are a good way to tell the difference. Henbit leaves are more rounded in shape with a scalloped, rather than serrated, edge. In fact, they almost give the impression of one large round leaf surrounding the square stem, especially near the top. The upper leaves have no stalks, while lower leaves have short stalks. While henbit has similar flowers, they are longer than those of deadnettle.

A cluster of plants with dark red stems, deep green, round leaves, and blue flowers for article on red deadnettleGround ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is similar to purple henbit, but the rounded, scalloped leaves are often a darker green on a green to dark red stem. Also, all the leaves have a small stem. It is easily differentiated from deadnettle by its flowers, which although being of a similar shaped are blue to purple in color. Ground ivy is also more shade-tolerant than deadnettle. As with the others, it is a European plant that has become invasive in North America.

A straight green stem has oval-shaped serrated leaves at intervals with clusters of yellow flowers for article on red deadnettleYellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) is yet another European wildflower that has taken root in North America and New Zealand, and to a lesser degree in South America. Its size is the most obvious way to differentiate it from red deadnettle and the rest; it grows on a single stalk that may be over thirty inches tall. The serrated, oval leaves and the yellow flowers are also larger than those of deadnettle, and there is no reddish tint to the foliage.

Heart-shaped green leaves with sharp serrations on a green stem for article on red deadnettleThe stinging nettles (Urtica spp.) can similarly be differentiated from red dead nettle by size. Particularly tall specimens may reach seven feet high, and the green, heart-shaped leaves can be up to six inches long. The leave margins are more sharply serrated and the end is pointier. And, as the name suggests, the leaves and stems have hairs that inject irritating chemicals into the skin.

A white ceramic bowl holds a variety of leaves and flowers, to include those of red deadnettleAnything else worth mentioning? Red deadnettle is a beginner-friendly edible plant for foraging. Henbit is the plant it’s most likely to be confused with, and it is also edible. People most commonly eat the young leaves and flowers at the top of the plant; they may be eaten raw or cooked. Because it is an invasive species, you are encouraged to pick the whole plant before it goes to seed, eat what you want of it, and compost the rest.

Further Reading:

Red Dead-Nettle

Lawn and Turfgrass Weeds: Dead Nettle

Dead Nettle, Henbit, and Ground Ivy – Three Look-Alike Weeds

Dead Nettle, an Overlooked yet Valuable Wild Edible

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