Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Smooth hedge nettle

This week’s featured plant is a species I learned to identify only a few weeks ago. Far from the most impressive flowers you’ll see blooming in moist habitats during the summer, smooth hedge nettle (Stachys tenuifolia) “is easy to overlook,” since it “tends to be rather small-sized and non-descript.” This member of the mint family is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I took all of the enclosed pictures along the Windsor Heights or Urbandale bike trails.

The foliage of smooth hedge nettle strongly resembles that of American or Canada germander, which grows in similar wet places and was the focus of a Bleeding Heartland post last month. At first glance, the flowers are hard to tell apart too, but hedge nettle blossoms have an upper lip that is absent on germander flowers.

Some hedge nettle species are also known as woundwort. That name may ring a bell, because General Woundwort is a memorable character from the fantastic adventure story Watership Down. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, make time to read Watership Down sometime. That book has been one of my favorite novels since I read it as a child. My kids enjoyed it too when we read it together a couple of years ago.

The Illinois Wildflowers website provides a detailed, botanically accurate description of smooth hedge nettle. These pictures show leaves and pink flowers a lot like germander, but with that prominent upper lip.

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This hedge nettle plant is growing near a wild grape vine:

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Although this shot doesn’t provide a good view of the hedge nettle near the lower right corner, I’ll take any excuse to publish another picture of American bellflowers.

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Tags: Wildflowers

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