Monarda punctata – where have you been all my life?! About 3 years ago I bought a small plug of spotted beebalm on a whim while visiting a native plant nursery. Little did I realize that this would soon rank in my top 10 favourite plants (and with over 300 species in my yard – that’s saying something). If you give it a sunny spot with well-drained sandy soil and minimal competition, it will reward you with a show of beautiful pink bracts, spotted creamy-green flowers, and lots and lots of pollinators. It self-seeds in my garden and my single plants has grown to a patch about 3’ across. The seedlings are easy to dig up and relocate so I have since added more in other locations around my yard. The Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, provided by Shaun Booth of In Our Nature.
Common Name: Spotted Beebalm
Scientific Name: Monarda punctata
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Alternate Common Names: Bee Balm Horsemint, Dotted Horsemint, Dotted Mint, Horsemint
Plant description: The stems of Spotted Beebalm are brown to reddish purple, 4-angled and densely hairy. Leaves are softly hairy and found in an opposite arrangement, measuring up to 7.5cm long and 1.2cm wide. You will notice that smaller leaves emerge from leaf axils (where leaves meet the stem). Lower leaves are serrated while upper leaves may have smooth margins. Tubular flowers are found in whorls around the upper leaf axils with one cluster being found at the very top of each stem. Each flower is 2.5cm long and yellow with purple spots. The upper lip of each flower is long, narrow and arching while the lower lip is 3 lobed. Each flower cluster is backed by 5-10 leaf-like bracts with pink, lavender or white upper surfaces. Note that some leaves can take on the colour of the bracts. Flowers turn into seed heads containing small, dry, oval seeds.
In the Garden: The quirky beauty of Spotted Beebalm is sure to turn heads in your garden! It is one of the most drought tolerant of the Monarda species and certainly the most unique. Its foliage has a wonderful minty aroma and, despite being in the mint family, it retains a clumping habit. Herbivores rarely bother with this plant.
Lifespan: annual, biennial or short-lived perennial
Exposure: full sun to part sun
Soil Type: sandy soil – requires excellent drainage
Height: 15-60 cm (occasionally to 90 cm)
Spread: 30 cm
Bloom Period: Jul, Aug, Sep
Colour: yellow with maroon markings, however the bracts are showier and may be purple, pink, white or yellow
Fragrant (Y/N): Y (foliage)
Showy Fruit (Y/N): N
Cut Flower (Y/N): Y
Pests: susceptible to powdery mildew, though because this plant prefers drier conditions than its cousins, M. didyma and M. fistulosa, it tends to be affected less often than the other two
Natural Habitat: sandy prairies and savannas, sand dunes around the Great Lakes and sandy fields with little grassy competition
Wildlife value: Butterflies (it is a favourite of the endangered Karner blue), skippers, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, honeybees, bumblebees and other native bees sip nectar from the flowers. In my garden, if you want to see a Great Black Digger Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) just stand by the M. punctata for a few moments when it is blooming – they are almost always on the plant. The strongly scented leaves and stems are usually avoided by mammalian herbivores.
Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none
Moth Larva Host Plant For: Orange Mint Moth (Pyrausta orphisalis), Raspberry Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta signatalis), and Gray Marvel (Anterastria teratophora)
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
Propagation: No treatment needed, though if holding for spring sowing, the seeds should be stored in a cool and dry environment. Seeds need light to germinate, so sow on the surface. It can also be propagated by 2-3-node cuttings of young plants. Because they are such a short-lived perennial, root division is usually not worth the effort.
Additional Info: does not tolerate grassy competition
In the short (5 second) video below, you can watch the unique relationship between plant and insect. As the wasp moves from flower to flower, it’s back is dabbed with pollen, which it then spreads to the next flower.