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The annual weedy species in Nebraska include Veronica agrestisVeronica persica, and Veronica polita. These plants are in the Scrophulariaceae (figwort) Family. Common names include Veronica, speedwell, field speedwell, and bird's eye speedwell. The annual speedwells can be difficult to tell apart.

Description: The leaves are opposite, from 0.1 inch to 0.5 inches long and about half as wide. They are scalloped and rotund. In some species the scallops are pointed and the leaves more deltoid shaped. The fruit is a 2-lobed capsule deeply cut and almost heart shaped, leading one horticulturist to refer to them as "baby butts."

Flowers: The funnel-shaped flowers emerge from the leaf axils. They are blue with a white throat at the base. The funnel shaped corolla appears to have 4 petals, but there is one corolla that is divided almost to the base.

Similar plants: Because of its scalloped leaves, and its prostrate spreading habit, veronica is sometimes mistaken for Glecoma hederacae, also known as creeping Charlie or ground ivy, and Lamium amplexicaule, commonly called henbit. Closer inspection shows that veronica has a round stem, not square like the other two which are mints. Veronica has a tube flower, not a mint flower. Common chickweed plants look similar, but they flower white flowers rather than blue.

Where: Found in waste places, gardens, roadsides, and areas of thin turf. It prefers a soil pH that is neutral to alkaline.

Propagation: It freely seeds. The plant comes back annually from seeds which are about a millimeter across.

Poisoning: None known

Historical: How did the name Speedwell come about? According to the Wildflowers of Ireland website, in olden times a tradition among seafaring communities was to give travelers a little bunch of blue flowers and wish them "Speed Well." Another source says the name "speed" comes from an ancient word meaning "thrive."

What: Speedwell is a winter annual. It germinates in the fall and stays in a vegetative state until spring. However, sometimes it can be found flowering in the winter. I, too, have found it flowering in my yard in the winter. Speedwell is a native of Europe that has naturalized in North America. There are at least 450 species of Veronicas. Most are not considered weeds. Many Veronica species are grown as ornamentals in the garden. They are taller and have spiky flowers and may be either annual or perennials.

Cons: It can spread readily through the lawn.

Pros: We don't recommend trying the following, as you may not be using the correct plant, veronica or speedwell. Medicinal uses by herbalists include to clear sinus infection, ease eye soreness, and to help eyesight. It is used to treat areas of tension, specifically the neck and shoulder areas, and relax the muscles. Other attributes that are claimed are that it will help treat migraine headaches, mouth sores, and throat sores.

Dried flowers are sometimes used as a tea for coughs. Lotions are made from the tea to treat skin irritations. Some herbalists say the tea can be used to prevent ulcers. The Emperor Charles the Fifth of Spain is said to have received relief from his gout by the using this herb.

In the 19th century the French called it "European Tea" because of its aroma and somewhat bitter flavor. It was considered an alternative to tea.

In Irish lore the herb is also thought to aid in resolving spiritual problems and even assert that it is effective in keeping away witches, devils, demons, and other monsters. However the Magikal Properties of Herbs website says it is more ominous and states: "Speedwell genus Veronica. Picking blue speedwell flowers will cause angry birds to peck out your eyes. A child who gathers speedwell will cause his or her mother to die before the year is gone."

Mary Anna Anderson
Mary Anna Anderson
Nebraska Extension Horticulturist

Mary Anna Anderson served from 1997-2013 as a horticulturist with Nebraska Extension in the Douglas/Sarpy County offices.