(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 11, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The genus Lamium are commonly called the dead nettles. The name comes from the fact that although the plants look similar to nettles (the genus Urtica) they do not sting hence are ‘dead' in regards to causing pain when touched. There are about 50 species of Lamium, including both annual and perennial forms. They are all native to the Mediterranean region. Most are weedy in nature and have, in fact, become noxious weeds in areas outside their native haunts. Only a handful are attractive enough to be used as garden ornamentals and even these needs to be watched carefully as they can become garden ‘bullies'. Those grown in cultivation include L. album, L. galeobdolon (aka Lamiastrum), L. garganicum, L. orvala and the subject of this article, the spotted dead nettle, L. maculatum. This latter species is certainly the most popular of the genus and the species most used by plant breeders, resulting in a lovely palette of cultivars.
Lamium maculatum is a low-growing, somewhat prostrate perennial which is generally under 30 cm in height but can spread to 100 cm or more. The leaves are paired and somewhat triangular in shape. They are sparely covered in short stiff hairs, have round-toothed margins and in the wild form, scattered silver spotting. It is the variation in the amount of spotting that plant breeders have concentrated upon when creating the numerous cultivars that now exist. The flowers are produced in small, rounded clusters at the ends of the stems. Individual flowers are somewhat helmet-shaped and may be white, pink or purple-red shades. They bloom from mid-late spring through fall, providing a modest floral display all season. Insects are rarely a problem and even deer are reticent to consume them.
In the garden, they grow well in part to full shade, although in cooler-summer areas they can withstand full sun. Well drained yet evenly moist soil will result in the most robust plants but once established, they are reasonably drought tolerant. Avoid excessive heat or plants may go summer-dormant, rejuvenating their foliage in the cooler fall months. Plants may be propagated by division or from cuttings which root with abandon. They can self-seed but the offspring are usually not as nicely marked as their named parents. They are hardy to zone 4 or zone 3 if there is steady snow cover. In the garden, they may be used as a groundcover, in containers or as accents along the front of the border. They combine particularly well with Hosta, ferns, bleeding-heart and bugleweed.
There are at least 30 named cultivars but I'll stick to the most popular. One of the older, yet still attractive cultivars is ‘Chequers' whose leaves have a central silver streak on a dark green background. Its flowers are reddish-purple. ‘Orchid Frost' has similar leaves with bluish-green margins and orchid-pink flowers. 'Shell Pink' is another similar cultivar but its flowers are light pink. ‘Immaculate' has completely green foliage and purplish flowers; it is grown primarily for the floral display.
The two most popular cultivars with central silver stripes are 'Chequers' and 'Shell Pink'
Perhaps the most popular are the silver-leaved forms. Many of these are completely silver with just a thin green margin. They really brighten up shaded areas with their metallic glean. Among the best cultivars are ‘White Nancy' (white flowers), ‘Red Nancy' (reddish-pink flowers), ‘Sterling Silver' (purple-pink flowers), ‘Pink Pewter' (bright pink), ‘Purple Dragon' (purple), ‘Cosmopolitan' (compact, light pink) and ‘Beacon Silver' (compact habit, lavender-pink).
Among the popular silver-leaved forms are 'Beacon Silver', 'Pink Pewter', 'White Nancy', 'Red Nancy' and 'Orchid Frost'
Spotted dead nettle also comes in golden-leaved forms. The old standard is ‘Aureum' (aka ‘Golden Nuggets') with plain yellow leaves and pink blooms. This one will burn if exposed to too much sun. Quite similar is ‘Cannon's Gold' and ‘Lemon Frost', both which also appreciate a shadier site. These three previous cultivars have gold new foliage that will turn chartreuse as the season progresses. They literally glow in a shady site. ‘Elizabeth de Haas' has green leaves with a central silver stripe and various yellow spotting throughout. ‘Beedham's White' has golden leaves with a central silver strip and white flowers. One of the most spectacular cultivars is ‘Anne Greenaway' whose leaves are a stunning a combination of green, yellow and silver. The mauve-purple flowers provide a striking contrast. ‘Golden Anniversary' is equally attractive but has reddish-purple flowers.
Among the yellow-leaved cultivars are 'Aureum', 'Lemon Frost', 'Cannon's Gold' and 'Beedham's White'
Among the most colourful cultivars are 'Anne Greenaway' and 'Golden Anniversary'
This list of cultivars is far from exhaustive and new cultivars seem to hit the market on a regular basis. For their ease of growth, wonderful foliage and modest floral display, the spotted dead nettles deserve a spot in any garden.
There are several DG members whom I wish to thnaks for the use of their pictures: growin ('Lemon Frost'), happenstance ('Anne Greenaway'), Kell ('Cannon's Gold'), poppysue ('White Nancy'), PudgyMudpies ('Orchid Frost'), saya ('Shell Pink'), TuttiFrutti ('Beedham's White' and 'Red Nancy')