Focus on flora: Henna

Focus on flora: Henna

Most people today will associate the word henna with a popular temporary tattoo or dyeing of the skin rather than the plant it is derived from: Lawsonia inermis. The sole species of the genus Lawsonia, henna has been used for centuries both in religious ceremonies and in medicine.

Ornamentally, this woody perennial is often grown as a standalone specimen in landscape beds or as a hedge. It is a great selection for a hedge as it has a dense growth habit and responds well to frequent pruning. Henna may also be used as a hedge to keep out unwanted guests/pests with its spiny branches. Often it is used as a windbreak for vineyards.

Native to Northern Africa and Southeast Asia, henna performs best in semi-arid tropical and subtropical locations. It is very heat and drought tolerant once established and has been widely studied for its salt tolerance. More and more studies are being conducted on irrigating with saline water, hydroponics and flooding. Many of these studies explore the use of agricultural land that has previously been discounted because of soil salinity levels.

The dye which is derived from the leaves of the henna plant is also used on the hair and nails in addition to the skin. Typical henna tattoos on the skin last for two weeks and can easily be removed afterward. In medicine, henna has seemingly endless uses for a wide range of conditions. Nearly all parts of the plant can be used and exhibit various medicinal properties including antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antiviral, antidiabetic and more than a dozen other pharmacological uses.

The beautiful white or sometimes red flower clusters that grow as a conical cyme are highly fragrant and often used in perfumes. The seeds are contained inside the fruit which is brown and globose. The seeds can be used to propagate henna but must follow a process mimicking how the seeds would germinate in the wild. Cuttings may also be used to propagate.

In Camana Bay, Lawsonia inermis can be found growing as a beautiful hedge at the north end of the Town Centre, between the 94 Solaris Avenue building and surface car park next to it.

As with any other plants that have medicinal properties, henna should not be used without consulting a healthcare professional. 

This article first appeared in the October 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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About the author

Shannon Schmidt is the Horticulture Manager at Dart’s Arboretum Services Ltd. Joining Dart in 2012, Shannon previously worked in parks, public gardens and tourism properties, among others. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Shannon loves island life, spending time paddleboarding around the canals and mangroves, in the sea, and spending time outdoors with her two energetic Boston Terriers Nollie and Ebbie and her equally energetic partner Chase! Shannon holds a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management from The Pennsylvania State University and a Diploma in Horticulture from the Longwood Gardens Professional School of Horticulture, and loves spending time swinging in a hammock, with her favourite smoothie from Jessie’s Juice Bar and reading material from Books & Books.

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