Spotted dead nettle, or Lamium maculatum to go by its Latin name, is a plant found throughout the UK and much of the rest of the world. It spreads easily in the wild and, perhaps because of that, is often cultivated for garden use as ground cover. Fortunately, it does not sting like the common nettle does, but it can be invasive if not dealt with correctly.
In its wild form, this perennial herb is very variable and can be of very differing heights. The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website describes the leaves as heart-shaped and hairy, usually with a whitish splotch, hence the plant’s common name. The flower is generally purple, although it can occasionally be white and consists of a tubular calyx and a purple corolla. The upper lip of the flower is often described as helmet shaped, whereas the lower lip hangs loose and is usually pale in colour with purple splotches. The helmet shaped lip contains the stamens, which are dusted with orange pollen. Once the flower goes to seed, it produces four brown seeds.
Its potential as ground cover has led to a number of cultivars, many of which have attractive foliage that sets off garden beds beautifully. According to daytonnursery.com, some of the more popular varieties include Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy,’ ‘Purple Dragon,’ and ‘Anne Greenaway.’ The leaves of ‘White Nancy’ are pale in colour, almost white, with an edge of green; the flowers are white. ‘Purple Dragon’ has purple flowers that are usually described as looking like snapdragon flowers, along with silvery leaves. ‘Anne Greenaway’ has beautiful leaves in two shades of green and a silver colour, along with pale purple flowers. The difference in the varieties can be spectacular and growing two or three different types can add a great deal of colour to the low-lying parts of gardens.
Habitat and geographical coverage
In the wild, spotted dead nettles can be found in a number of different locations. They are commonly seen along roadsides and streams, but can also be found in rocky places and streams. They prefer shade and a moist environment, so are often found at the edge of wooded areas. The plant is native to Europe and China, but has been introduced to the UK, New Zealand, America and Canada. In the UK, the plant tends to be found in England rather than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
When to see it
One of the reasons for the plant’s popularity is that its flowering season is long. It can be seen in flower from April through to November, providing a splash of colour in autumn months when most flowers are dying away.
Dayton Nursery recommends well-drained soil for the cultivation of spotted dead nettles, although the plant will grow in moist soil. A loamy soil is best. Most gardeners grow the nettles from plants and they are very easy to propagate “by division or runners that have rooted in the spring.” However, they can be grown from seed once the frost season is over. The plants need to be kept under control, however, or they can take over the garden. They are prone to attack by snails and slugs.
Spotted dead nettles are particularly attractive when grown in gardens because of their colourful foliage. However, they can be very invasive and so need to be carefully controlled to avoid a take-over of your garden.