Native to semi-arid and tropical areas of Africa, Asia, and northern Australia, this slender, much branched, evergreen shrub or small tree is also known as mignonette tree and Egyptian privet. It is in the loosestrife family, Lythraceae, that also includes crepe myrtle and pomgranate, and is the only species in the genus Lawsonia. The shrub grows up to 25′ tall and has spine tiped branchlets. The elliptical to lanceolate leaves are .5 to 2″ long and have pointed tips and depressed veins on the upperside. Although considered evergreen, the plant will lose leaves during periods of prolonged dryness or cool temperatures. Small very fragrant white flowers appear from spring to fall and give way to small brownish capsules containing 32 to 49 seeds. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons
The plant has medicinal properties and has been used to treat several ailments including wounds, renal problems, jaundice, leprosy and skin diseases. The leaves have been made into henna dye for more than 5000 years and used to dye skin, hair, fingernails, and fabrics. Henna is called camphire in the King James Bible and some others.
Song of Songs 1:14 (NIV) The bride describes how precious her beloved is to her.
“My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi.”
Song of Songs 4:13 (NIV) The bridgroom describes the garden of his beloved.
“Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard,”
Henna likes full sun and fertile, medium moist to dry, well-drained soil in USDA Hardiness zones 10-11 . The best dye production results when the plants are grown at temperatures between 95-113 F. Propagation is by seed. Plants are susceptible to Alternaria alternata, Alternaria tenuissima, the beetle Pachnoda interrupta, Phenacoccus solenopsis (cotton mealybug), the aphid Sarucallis kahawaluokalani and Corticium koleroga.
The genus name, Lawsonia, honors Scottish physician Isaac Lawson, a good friend of Linnaeus. The specific epithet, inermis, in the classical Latin word meaning unarmed [lack of prickles].