The Lamiaceae Family has given us many herbs used in cooking and perfumery; Rosemary, French Lavender, Thyme, Majoram, Sage, and the garden mints are just a few. Members of this family are usually aromatic, but not necessarily minty; some can be outright repulsive in their odor.
Lamiaceae are distinctive, in a complex sort of way: The stems are square with opposite leaves, with each pair of leaves at right angles to the ones above and below it. The flowers are in whorls in the axils of the upper leaves, often so dense that they seem to be continuous.The corolla of the individual flower is usually 2-lipped, with 2 lobes forming the upper lip and 3 lobes the lower lip. There are 4 stamens in 2 pairs, with theupper pair often reduced to filaments with no anthers. The fruiting part of the pistil has four lobes, each producing a nutlet with a single seed.
Horehound, Self Heal and Motherwort are known Lamiaceae members with medicinal qualities, and any feline can attest to the rejuvenating properties of Nepeta cataria, or Catnip.
Lamiaceae is a large family, so variation is expected; some flowers are regular rather than lipped, some seem to have tube-like structures, but the stems, leaves, and general flower growth is fairly distinctive for all members of this family. Many members of Lamiaceae make attractive garden additions, particulary the showy sages and mints.
NOTE: We try not to use the name "Hedge Nettle", as these plants are not really nettles at all, but mints. We've adopted the suggested name "Wood Mint", instead, as a more accurate common name (or about as accurate as a common name can be!)
Pitcher Sage - Lepechinia calycina
Coyote Mint - Monardella villosa var franciscana
Rigid Wood Mint - Stachys ajugoides
Flowers: Light lavender to pink to white, 5 petals in two lips; lower lip well patterned with lines and dots; lower lip slightly bilobed, squared and bent backwards toward calyx; in whorls of flowers along stems at top. Sharp tiny sac is on the lower side of the short flower tube.
Blooms: May - August.
Leaves: Oval, scallop-margin, toothed leaves often without a scale-like pattern. Lightly haired or hairless. Strongly scented - I like it, others hate it.
Location: Damp bottomlands, along creeks and in wet areas.
Status: Native - Common.
Above - the distinctly pink on white patterned flowers of
our local Rigid Wood Mint. Note the smoother leaves.
600x450 JPEG - 32K
Further description & Comment: 1 - 3 ft tall; square, thin, slightly haired stem.
Left - a detail of the flower pattern, one of the local variations that distinguish it from California Wood Mint.
For details of how to distinguish it from Stachys bullata californica., see How to tell them apart.
Wood Mints - How to tell them apart:
S. ajugoides. (Rigid Wood Mint) and S. bullata californica. (California Wood Mint) can be very similar plants, but our local varieties have some distinctions that help to recognize which is which. Once you've seen them together enough (try San Pedro Mtn Road about 1/4 mile beyond the Higgins Road gate or the half way point of Gray Whale Cove Trail) you get the general feel for which is which. If you have trouble, the real foolproof way to tell them apart is below.
The image here shows the flowers of S. ajugoides. on the left and S. bullata californica. on the right: 600x450 JPEG - 48K.
Flowers: S. ajugoides. tends to have smaller flowers, primarily white with a heavy pink vein and dot pattern, and the lower lip bent backwards towards the calyx. S. bullata. flowers are larger, mainly pink with a darker pink pattern, and the lower lip usually protrudes forward.
Leaves: S. bullata. leaves are thick, and almost spongy to the feel, coarsely grained, fuzzy to the touch and with distinct teeth on the margin. S. ajugoides. leaves then to be smoother, thinner, not so heavily grained and with more of a scallop pattern on the margin.
Range: S. bullata. has a very wide range over the mountain, and is the most common of the two. S. ajugoides. has a much more limited distribution. If you're seeing a lot of it everywhere, it's bullata.
Size: S. bullata. can get quite large - specimens in creek beds can get to be over 5 ft tall. S. ajugoides. rarely grows larger than 2 feet tall. It also has smaller leaves and thinner stems.
Caveats and How to be Really Sure: The charcateristics described above are general and seem to be particluar to Montara Mountain. I've been to other areas where S. ajugoides. was the predominant species and few if any of the above markings and size descriptors applied. So to be really sure, you need to pluck one of the flowers free from the calyx - as in the image above, you'll notice that S. ajugoides. (on the left) has a small sac on the lower part of the floral tube behind the lower lip, while S. bullata. does not.
Flowers: Light purple to pink to white, 5 petals in two lips; lower lip solid color (no marks); in whorls of flowers along stems at top. Calyx lobes (the bracts the flowers come out of) spine tipped.
Blooms: March - July.
Leaves: Dark green, hairy and triangular, toothed, with scaly vein pattern, in pairs; Some say they have a strong unpleasant smell; I rather like it.
Location: All trails and areas.
Status: Native - Common.
Stachys bullata californica
460x635 JPEG - 36K
|Further description & Comment: 1 - 3 ' tall; square, stout stem. For details of how to distinguish it from Stachys ajugoides., see How to tell them apart.|
Above, a detail showing the local flower pattern.
The scaly patterned leaves are a familar sight along the trails - new plants pop up all year round, but are especially noticeable in late winter.
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