Uniquely colorful and loaded with pollinators from summer to fall--spotted bee balm doesn’t deserve to be on Ohio’s list of endangered plants. This perennial member of the mint family has dense whorls of creamy, purple-spotted, tubular-shaped flowers atop circlets of large, ornamental bracts. From the bases of the leaf-like bracts to their tips, the color often transitions from white to pink to mauve. The whorls of flowers and bracts are stacked along the upper portion of the stems in a botanical imitation of a pagoda. Horsemint, another common name for the plant, is said to refer to the coarse blooms that are larger than average for the mint family. The long-lasting blooms appear on square, 1-3’ stems from mid-summer to fall, and the showy bracts remain long after the flowers have wilted. Spotted bee balm is found in dry, sandy soils in the wild, but it adapts to other types of well-drained soils and tolerates drought. It thrives in full sun and spreads non-aggressively by shallow, fibrous roots to form large clumps that are easy to divide. Spotted bee balm is susceptible to powdery mildew and rust late in the season if it doesn’t get enough airflow. It isn’t very tolerant of shade.
Plants in the Monarda genus (Nicholas B. Monardes was a 16th-century Spanish botanist) have a strong, mint-thyme aroma that is decidedly unappealing to deer and other mammals. But hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies--including the endangered Karner blue butterfly--can’t stay away from the 1” tubular blossoms that are spotted with purplish dots (punctata is Latin for “point”). Beneficial predatory wasps do double duty by pollinating the flowers and helping to reduce the pest population.
Native habitats include sand prairies or dunes and dry soils in prairies, rocky woodlands, and coastal plains. Use in containers; meadows; rock, pollinator, cottage, native, drought-tolerant, and nighttime gardens; perennial borders; and mass plantings. Bee balm is excellent as a cut flower.
Grows 1-3’ tall and 1’ wide.
Reaches maximum growth in full sun and also grows in part shade.
Prefers sandy or rocky soils with dry to medium moisture but adapts to most soil types with good drainage, including clay. Tolerant of drought.
From July-October, rosettes of creamy, purple-spotted flowers wrap around the stem to form a dense, elongated spike. Each irregular flower has upper and lower lips, 2 short stamens, 2 tall stamens with brown anthers, and a slender style. Large, purplish bracts wrap the stem just below the flowers. Bract undersides are green. From August-October, each flower gives way to 4 small nutlets.
Opposite, narrowly lanceolate leaves are 1-3” long and less than 1” wide. They usually have serrated edges and pointed tips.
Purplish, green-brown stems emerge from large tap root.
Host plant for the larvae of 11 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the raspberry pyrausta butterfly and gray marvel and snout moths. The nectar and pollen attract butterflies; hummingbirds; moths; wasps; and bees, including honey, bumble, miner, and plasterer bees. Members of the genus Monarda also support several specialized bees.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans made a strong “sweating” tea to treat colds. Bee balm contains thymol, an external antiseptic. Internally, it was used to destroy worms and parasites and to treat upset stomachs, diarrhea, and kidney disease.
Leaves can be brewed into a weak, pleasant-tasting tea.
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