What Is Henbit?

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Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is an annual broadleaf weed that belongs to the mint family. This unique-looking plant is a common weed that often invades lawns and gardens, much to the dismay of landscapers everywhere. While some may dismiss it as just another pesky plant, understanding its characteristics and life cycle is essential for effective weed control. Keep reading to learn everything a yard care enthusiast needs to know about henbit on your property!

What Does Henbit Look Like?

Henbit presents a distinct appearance that sets it apart from other common lawn weeds. Its square-shaped stems, a trademark characteristic of the mint family (Lamiaceae), contribute to its unique look. These stems branch out from a central point and can grow up to 16 inches in height, forming dense patches in lawns and gardens. The leaves of henbit are opposite, meaning they grow in pairs along the stem, and they are characterized by their heart-shaped outline with serrated edges. The leaves often have a purplish tint, especially along the veins, adding to the plant's visual appeal. 

The flowers of henbit are small, tubular, and arranged in clusters at the top of its stems. These clusters typically consist of several whorls of flowers, creating a dense floral display. The individual flowers themselves are approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch long and have a distinctive shape reminiscent of a tube or funnel. They feature four petals that are fused together at the base, forming a tubular structure, with two upper petals that are slightly larger and two lower petals that are smaller and often have a slightly different coloration. The color of henbit flowers can vary from light pink to deep purple, and they may exhibit various shades and gradients within this range. 

Key Characteristics:

  • Square stems
  • Opposite, toothed leaves
  • Heart-shaped leaves with a purplish tint
  • Fine hairs on lower leaves
  • Tubular pink or purple flowers
  • Two large hooded top petals

Henbit vs. Purple Deadnettle 

Henbit is often confused with a related plant known as purple deadnettle (pictured above). In fact, these weeds are so similar in both appearance and habits that they are often found growing near one another, and henbit is even referred to as henbit deadnettle. The term "deadnettle" is a reference to the leaves of these weeds, which resemble typical nettle plants but do not include any stinging hairs, making the leaves inactive or "dead." The non-stinging leaves are characteristic of both purple deadnettle and henbit.

Like all members of the mint family of plants, both purple deadnettle and henbit have square stems, which can make them even more difficult to differentiate when they grow near each other. A key difference to look for is the tubular flowers of henbit that are much more elongated than the bulbous flowers of purple deadnettle. Also, while the leaves of both can appear similar in some ways, purple deadnettle leaves have short stalks, whereas henbit leaves are not stalked. The leaves of henbit are also more round and lack the deep purple hue of purple deadnettle.

Life Cycle Of Henbit

Understanding the life cycle of henbit allows homeowners and landscapers to recognize key stages of its growth and take appropriate measures for control and management. Early detection of henbit infestations, especially during the seedling and vegetative growth stages, enables you to implement timely intervention strategies to prevent the weed from establishing dense populations in their yards.


Henbit is a winter annual, meaning its seeds typically germinate in the fall when soil temperatures are cool and moisture levels are adequate. Fall germination occurs when temperatures begin to cool in late summer or early autumn. Germination is triggered by environmental factors such as temperature and moisture, with seeds lying dormant in the soil until conditions become favorable for growth.

Seedling Stage

After germination, henbit seedlings emerge from the soil and begin to grow. Initially, seedlings have cotyledons, which are the embryonic leaves of the plant. As the seedlings mature, they develop true leaves with the characteristic heart-shaped outline and purplish tint. Seedlings will emerge in fall and the rosette of leaves formed will overwinter until spring.

Vegetative Growth

As henbit seedlings continue to grow, they develop into mature plants with square-shaped stems, opposite leaves, and clusters of small, tubular flowers. This development happens in spring after the plant overwinters. During this vegetative growth stage, henbit plants compete with desirable vegetation for resources such as water, nutrients, and sunlight. Dense patches of henbit may begin to form in lawns and disturbed areas, especially in areas with minimal competition from other plants.

Flowering & Seed Production

In mid-spring, henbit plants reach maturity and begin to produce clusters of pink to purple flowers at the top of their stems. These flowers are attractive to pollinators such as bees and butterflies, aiding in the plant's reproductive process. As the flowers are pollinated, they develop into small seed capsules containing numerous seeds. Henbit is capable of producing a large number of seeds, which can contribute to its spread and persistence in the landscape.

Seed Dispersal

Once mature, the seed capsules of henbit dry out and split open, releasing the seeds into the surrounding environment. Seeds can be dispersed by various means, including wind, water, animals, and human activities. Some seeds may remain close to the parent plant, while others may be carried over long distances, facilitating the spread of henbit to new areas. A single plant is capable of producing up to 2,000 seeds.

Death & Seed Dormancy

The annual henbit plant will die shortly after setting seeds in late spring. While some henbit seeds germinate immediately after dispersal, most seeds enter a state of dormancy, remaining viable in the soil for extended periods. These dormant seeds can persist in the soil seed bank for several years, waiting for favorable conditions to germinate and begin the life cycle anew. Seed dormancy contributes to the resilience and persistence of henbit populations in the landscape.

How Does Henbit Damage Lawns?

The root system of henbit consists of a network of fibrous roots that spread horizontally in your lawn’s soil, as well as a small, shallow taproot that extends vertically into the ground. This combination of shallow and deep roots allows henbit to efficiently absorb water and nutrients from the soil, giving it a competitive advantage over surrounding plants. The dense and interconnected nature of henbit's root system enables it to anchor firmly in the soil and withstand environmental stresses such as drought and soil compaction. These unwanted roots will disrupt the soil in your lawn, making it harder for grass to become lush and strong.

How To Control Henbit

There are things you can do around the yard that will help deter and prevent henbit from appearing. Thankfully, though, annual weeds do not have overly complex or deep roots like perennials can have, so removal is possible if the invasion has not spread too widely across your property. Call SKB today for all of your weed control needs in Georgia, and keep the following tips in mind for preventing and removing henbit in your yard this season!

  • Aerate & Seed: Used in conjunction, these two tasks will help keep a dense lawn with sturdy roots that can overpower henbit roots.
  • Fertilize In Fall: Fertilizing your lawn just as henbit seedlings are trying to emerge will help your lawn withstand the weed coverage.
  • Mow Frequently: Mowing over immature henbit can prevent it from flowering and dropping seed, and it will increase lawn density.
  • Pull & Dig: Shallow taproots of henbit can be removed by pulling or digging out the weed when the invasion is not widespread.
  • Apply Pre-Emergent: Pre-emergent can be applied in fall, just before seedlings emerge, or in early spring for seeds that are still germinating.
  • Apply Post-Emergent: Broadleaf weed killers like 2, 4-D or dicamba will help eradicate larger invasions that can not be removed by hand. Call your local lawn care professional for help using chemical herbicides.