608 Monarda punctataCommon Names: spotted horsemint, dotted horsemint, spotted beebalm Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Spotted horsemint is an herbaceous to semi-woody, rather shrubby and gangly, multi-branched perennial (sometimes an annual) to 3 or 4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall. Like most herbaceous mints, it has opposite leaves and square stems. The stems and leaves are hairy. The leaves are lance shaped with short petioles and toothed margins, and range from 1 to 3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long. The flowers are small and rather inconspicuous, but arranged in showy heads, 2-7 per stem. Each flower head rests upon a flamboyant palette of pink to lavender leafy bracts. The little corolla is tube shaped and bilaterally symmetrical with two lips, in typical mint fashion. The flower tubes are pale yellow with purple spots, less than an inch long, and protrude from the rounded heads. The leaves smell like fine Greek oregano.
Spotted horsemint, Monarda punctata, is native to eastern North America from Vermont to Minnesota and south to Florida, eastern Texas and Mexico. It grows on road shoulders, in old fields and thin woods, and in disturbed areas. It is partial to sandy soils.
CultureLight: Likes full sun, but tolerates partial shade, especially in the lower south. Moisture: Spotted horsemint is drought tolerant, but it will flower more profusely if given water during dry periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. Propagation: Spotted horsemint can be propagated by dividing the root clumps, but it is easily grown from seeds. I started my butterfly garden patch with some seeds I gathered from a particularly colorful plant I found growing along the highway. Most native plant nurseries offer spotted horsemint.
Spotted horsemint is a little coarse for the formal garden but is just perfect for the wild or meadow garden and for attracting butterflies. Plant it in masses in the back of a border or let it self seed in a natural area. Spotted horsemint is very tolerant of salt spray, and the showy purple bracts will brighten up the seaside garden from late summer until first frost.
The dried floral heads are used in arrangements and sachets. I use the leaves as a substitute for oregano.
Native Americans made a tea from the leaves of spotted horsemint to treat flu, colds and fever. It increases sweating. Essential oils from horsemint are high in thymol, which is an effective fungicide and bactericide and also used to expel hookworms. Today thymol is manufactured synthetically.
There are about 15 species of Monarda. The flashy garden monardas are selections of Oswego tea (M. didyma) or hybrids between it and wild bergamot (M. fistulosa).
Steve Christman 12/19/99; updated 9/6/03, 9/20/03