Romping through a field of clover, the maiden laid down on the hillside and breathed in the fragrance of nectar-filled blossoms, felt golden sunshine on her fair cheek, and heard humming bees going about their springtime busy-business of making honey and building honeycomb. “Is this heaven?” she asks. “No it’s Iowa,” she laughs, quoting a passage from “Field of Dreams.”
Have you noticed the fields of purple flowers blooming all around the countryside and asked yourself, “What’s going on? Where’s this coming from?” It’s like a scene from “The Sound of Music” with the Trapp family and Julie Andrews singing “the hills are alive.”
There’s a huge field of the purple blossoms just east of Mt. Pleasant on the south side of Highway 34. Motorists (including me) have stopped to take pictures of this pastoral scene. My daughter, an artist, painted it.
Is this one of those cover crops you hear so much about—a temporary fall planting of grass or clover by farmers after harvest to help control winter erosion and nutrient runoff in the fields throughout the winter? Could be. But the typical cover crops are green not purple.
Ask any farmer what this flower is and you might get a sharp retort or growl, like, “It’s a weed called henbit. And it’s a nuisance!”
In fact, from the publication, “Who’s Your Iowa Farmer” comes the following information: “Farmers would no doubt take issue with describing these troublesome weeds with such positive adjectives. Henbit is easily confused with its close relative, purple deadnettle. Both are winter annuals with square shaped stems and purplish blooms. Members of the mint family, you may even catch a hint of the familiar aroma. In a rural landscape, henbit is most frequently found in no-till corn and soybean fields, making itself at home in fertile, moist, undisturbed soils. You might also discover it flourishing in your flower beds this spring. If this is not problematic enough, researchers have found that soil in no-till fields covered with winter annuals in spring is slower to warm which can potentially reduce yields. The weeds are also competing with crops for water and light needed for germination and growth. The pesky weeds can even rob farmers of part of their nitrogen application. Since henbit and other winter annuals complete most of their vegetative growth very early in the season, they have a head start when it comes to absorbing the nitrogen supply meant for field crops before their seeds are even planted. In conventional tillage systems, the winter annuals would be destroyed by the tillage process. However, no-till systems, designed to protect the soil and preserve water and nutrients in the soil, require an application of herbicide to eliminate these weeds.”
The good news, for people like my artist daughter, who enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the purple flower, is that the entire plant is edible, making it great for salads and herbal tea.
From “Eat the Planet”: Henbit “was brought over to the Americas as chicken fodder. In fact, the name ‘henbit’ came from the fact that chickens love eating the leaves of this plant. Today, many foragers have realized the nutritional value of this wild edible.”
Obviously, henbit is quite invasive and can cause men (and women) to have a fit (henbit fit), or artists, like my daughter, to have another subject for a pretty picture. If you like its beauty, enjoy it while it’s here. As soon as Roundup Ready corn and soybeans are in the ground, henbit, I imagine, will be history.
Times are changing; weather patterns are changing. What we have never seen before is becoming common place. What is one person’s problem is another person’s cup of tea.