Bee balm, Monarda, in Ober Gatlinburg wildlife area

12 Interesting Facts About Beebalm (Monarda)

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Beebalm (Monarda spp.) is a gorgeous native wildflower that makes an excellent addition to any garden. With its vibrant flowers that attract pollinators and fragrant foliage reminiscent of mint, beebalm has a lot to offer.

Read on to learn 12 fascinating facts about this versatile North American native plant.

1. Beebalm is a Mint Relative

Like other members of the Lamiaceae or mint family, beebalm displays characteristic square stems and opposite leaf arrangements. The leaves also emit a pleasant minty fragrance when crushed.

However, unlike its creeping mint cousins, beebalm grows in upright clumps and doesn’t spread aggressively.

2. Flowers Attract Bees and Hummingbirds

As the name suggests, beebalm’s tubular flowers draw in bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds with their bright colors and sweet nectar.

The shaggy blossoms come in shades of red, pink, purple, and white depending on the species and cultivar. They bloom from midsummer well into fall.

3. Native Americans Used Beebalm Medicinally

Indigenous groups utilized beebalm widely for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. The Blackfoot recognized its use for colds and respiratory ailments.

Teas and poultices made from the leaves and flowers treated everything from headaches, fevers, and digestive issues to skin infections.

4. The Genus Name Honors a Spanish Botanist

The genus was dubbed Monarda in honor of 16th century Spanish physician and botanist Nicolas Monardes.

Though Monardes never visited the Americas, he wrote extensively about healing plants from the New World. His books helped introduce Europeans to American botanicals.

Monarda didyma, Beebalm, Howard County, MD, Helen Lowe Metzman_2017-07-25-15.18

5. It Has Many Common Names

In addition to beebalm, this plant goes by names like bergamot, horsemint, and oswego tea.

The oswego tea moniker refers to American colonists using the leaves as a substitute for imported tea after the Boston Tea Party.

6. At Least 17 Species Occur Naturally in North America

While the most popular garden varieties are M. didyma (scarlet beebalm) and M. fistulosa (wild bergamot), there are over 17 wild beebalm species native to North America alone.

They grow in a diversity of habitats from woodland edges to prairie swales across most of the continental U.S. and Canada.

7. Easy to Grow

Beebalm thrives with little fuss as long as placed in full sun or light shade and provided moderately moist but well-drained soil. No need to baby this tough plant!

Most species adapt readily to a range of soil pH levels. Just give it room to reach its mature size.

8. Many Cultivars Available

Thanks to beebalm’s carefree nature, lovely blossoms, and fragrance, plant breeders took notice. There are now countless cultivars to choose from.

Popular varieties include the mildew-resistant ‘Jacob Cline’ and ‘Raspberry Wine’, compact ‘Blue Stocking’, and bright pink ‘Pink Lace’.

9. Prone to Powdery Mildew

The main disease plaguing beebalm is powdery mildew, a fungal infection that coats leaves and flowers with white spores. It thrives in hot, humid conditions.

Seek out resistant cultivars like ‘Jacob Cline’ or site plants for good air circulation. Removing affected foliage helps limit spread.

10. Deer and Rabbit Resistant

Lucky gardeners can grow beebalm without worrying about Bambi and his furry friends munching the foliage.

The minty scent and taste seem to deter these common garden pests. That makes beebalm ideal for gardens plagued by hungry wildlife.

11. Attracts Hummingbird Moths

In addition to hummingbirds sipping nectar, you might spot hummingbird moths (Hemaris species) hovering around beebalm blossoms with their long tongues.

These day-flying moths mimic the look and behavior of hummingbirds. They make interesting garden visitors.

12. Spreads by Rhizomes and Self-Seedling

Allow beebalm plants room to grow as they will spread modestly via underground rhizome growth. The black seeds that form in the spent flowers also germinate readily when scattered nearby.

Thin out overcrowded plants and unwanted seedlings to keep growth under control.

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