Also known as Florida hedgenettle, and rattlesnake weed, this cool season herbaceous perennial is probably native to Florida but in the 40s and 50s spread throughout the southeastern US from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas. It is a member of the deadnettle family, Lamiaceae, that also includes mint, beebalm and teak. Although an aggressive weed in lawns and garden bed, it has some virtues. The stems and leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach, or can be dried and used to make tea. The seeds can be eaten raw and the tubers from its root system can be eaten raw or pickled if harvested in spring when it is crisp. Although the flowers are not considered edible they attract butterflies and other pollinators. Florida betony grows well in USDA Zones 7-11 with sun to part shade and light moist soil (but tolerates dryness.) Photo Credit Wikipedia


Description: Florida betony grows up to 2′ tall and has a square hairy upright stem carrying opposite leaves that are lanceolate, up to 2″ long, and have toothed margins. Whorled spikes of 3-6 tubular flowers appear in the upper leaf axils from early to late spring. Each flower has hairy sepals and a 2-lipped corolla that is white to pink with purple spots and up to 1/2″ long. The dry fruit that follows contains 4 nutlets. The root system consists of rhizomes and tubers that break easily and then give rise to new plants. The edible tubers are white, segmented and resemble a rattlesnake’s tail. They can grow over a yard long. The root system is the primary way the plants spread and become invasive. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Control: Physical control of Florida betony is difficult. As long as the tubers and rhizomes are in the soil, new plants will appear so mowing, for example, is not of much use in controlling the weed. Hand pulling the plants is safest but will require careful digging so as to avoid breaking any rhizomes or tubers and thereby creating new plants. Hoeing is out of the question because of the increased danger of breaking root system. In garden beds, the application of 2-4″ of coarse mulch like pine straw or wood chips may be successful in reducing the number of plants emerging from the soil. If Florida betony is in a lawn, the first line of defense is having good cultural practices that result in a thick healthy lawn. This means mowing at the correct height and time, applying adequate amounts of water and the proper fertilizer at the right time, and controlling insects and diseases. In spite of all efforts, Florida betony may persist and in severe cases chemical control may be needed. Since the plant spreads by tubers and rhizomes, pre-emergent herbicides are ineffective. There are some postemergent herbicides that will cause the above ground parts of the plant to die but are not translocated so will not kill the tubers and rhizomes and new plants will emerge.  Systemic herbicides such as glyphosate are effective but are not selective and may damage any plant it contacts so cannot be used in a lawn.

By Karen