I walk past a small office building in Palo Alto every day, a house at 625-631 Emerson St. that was rebuilt and turned into offices some years ago. Last week they replanted their garden on the street, replacing a row of very pretty small (white-fowered) rose plants with a tricolor border: those white roses, red geraniums, and low-growing plants with velvety gray leaves. I recognized the gray plants as “lamb’s ears”, or Stachys lanata (which turns out to be a synonym for Stachys byzantina):


S. byzantina as a groundcover

From Wikipedia:

Stachys byzantina (syn. S. lanata; lamb’s-ear) is a species of Stachys, native to Turkey, Armenia, and Iran [hence the byzantina]. It is cultivated over much of the temperate world as an ornamental plant, and is naturalised in some locations as an escapee from gardens. Plants are very often found under the synonym Stachys lanata or Stachys olympica. [Latin lanata ‘woolly’ < lana ‘wool’; cf. lanolin]

… Lamb’s-ear plants are perennial herbs usually densely covered with gray or silver-white, silky-lanate hairs. They are named lamb’s ears because of the leaves’ curved shape and white, soft, fur-like hair coating.

… Lamb’s-ear flowers in late spring and early summer; plants produce tall spike-like stems with a few reduced leaves. The flowers are small and either white or pink.


On the genus, from Wikipedia:

Stachys is one of the largest genera in the flowering plant family Lamiaceae [the labiates, or mint family]. Estimates of the number of species in the genus vary from about 300, to about 450. The type species for the genus is Stachys sylvatica. Stachys is in the subfamily Lamioideae…

The distribution of the genus covers Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and North America. Common names include heal-all, self-heal, woundwort, betony, lamb’s ears, and hedgenettle. Wood betony, Stachys officinalis, was the most important medicinal herb to the Anglo-Saxons of early medieval Great Britain.

The Chinese artichoke (S. affinis), is grown for its edible tuber. Several species are cultivated as ornamentals. Woolly Betony (S. byzantina) [our “lamb’s ears”] is a popular decorative garden plant.

Stachys was named by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753. The name is derived from the Greek word σταχυς (stachys), meaning “an ear of grain” [i.e., corn], and refers to the fact that the inflorescence is often a spike.

(The word nettle comes into things through the physical resemblance of some of these plants to nettles (in the genus Urtica, botanically distant from the labiates). Hence hedgenettle, and also deadnettle (that is, a “nettle” that doesn’t sting), the common name for plants in the genus Lamium, the type genus for the family Lamiaceae, the labiates. Meanwhile, the name heal-all or self-heal, used here for Stachys species with vulnerary (wound-healing) uses, is also used for labiate plants in the genus Prunella; see below.)

On to S. officinalis (which, like S. byzantina, I grew in my Ohio garden). More name complexity, in both botanical and common naming. From Wikipedia:

Stachys officinalis [syn. Betonica officinalis] is commonly known as betony, purple betony, wood betony, bishopwort, or bishop’s wort… It is a perennial grassland herb growing to 1 to 2 feet tall.

… The plant was commonly grown in physic gardens of apothecaries and monasteries for medicinal purposes

[NOAD2 on the name betony: ORIGIN  Middle English: from Old French betoine, based on Latin betonica, perhaps from the name of an Iberian tribe.]

Like many Stachys species, it spreads by creeping stems (stolons) that root as they go along the ground.


S. officinalis as a garden plant

Now S. sylvatica (< Latin sylva, variant spelling of silva ‘woods, forest’; cf. the adjective sylvan and the names Sylvia, Transylvania, Pennsylvania). From Wikipedia:

Stachys sylvatica, commonly known as hedge woundwort, or sometimes as hedge nettle, is a perennial herb growing to 80 cm tall in woodland and unmanaged grassland. In temperate zones of the northern hemisphere it flowers in July and August. The flowers are purple. The leaves, when crushed or bruised, give off an unpleasant fetid smell.

… Along with its close relative marsh woundwort, it is used to promote healing of wounds.

The plant seems not to be known in English as forest or woodland woundwort, despite its Latin name.


The wildflower/weed S. sylvatica

Finally, to Prunella. From Wikipedia:

Prunella vulgaris (known as common self-heal or heal-all) is an herbaceous plant in the genus Prunella.

Self-heal is edible: the young leaves and stems can be eaten raw in salads; the whole plant can be boiled and eaten as a potherb; and the aerial parts of the plant can be powdered and brewed in a cold infusion to make a beverage.

… The flowers grow from a clublike, somewhat square, whirled cluster; immediately below this club are a pair of stalkless leaves standing out on either side like a collar. Flowers are two-lipped and tubular. The top lip is a purple hood, and the bottom lip is often white; it has three lobes with the middle lobe being larger and fringed upwardly.

… Self-heal propagates both by seed and vegetatively by creeping stems that root at the nodes.

This labiate wildflower is often considered to be a weed because of its tendency to be invasive. (Invasiveness is a theme in this posting.) In Columbus, it grew freely in the lawn, along with another flowering labiate creeper, Ajuga (aka bugleweed).


Prunella blossoms close up, looking very pretty and very labiate

Bonuses: Ajuga reptans (note Latin reptans ‘creeping’; cf. reptile) as a groundcover:


And Lamium maculatum, ditto:


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