1293 Thymus serpyllumCommon Names: wild thyme,mother of thyme,ping thyme,Breckland thyme Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Mother of thyme, or simply wild thyme, is an evergreen sub-shrub with aromatic, lightly fuzzy leaves only 1/8 to 3/8 in (3-9 mm) in length. The little leaves are oval to elliptical and borne in opposing pairs along the wiry stems which are woody near their bases. Wild thyme blooms with purple or pink flowers packed in dense rounded whorls held above the foliage. You will need a hand lens to study a flower, which has the typical mint shape: tubular at the base, and bilaterally symmetrical with a three-lobed upper lip and a two-lobed lower lip. Wild thyme grows with trailing stems, square in cross section, that root at the nodes, eventually forming a mounded mat to 10 in (25 cm) in height.
Two varieties of Mother of thyme can be recognized: The nominate, described above, and var. coccineus (synonym: T. praecox), characterized by having pink instead of purple flowers. Important cultivars of var. coccineus include ‘Pink Chinz’, which has grayish leaves; ‘Elfin’, which forms a dense mound of evergreen foliage just 3 in (8 cm) high, but blooms infrequently; ‘Snowdrift’, with white flowers; ‘Mountain’ which has shiny leaves and dark pink-purple flowers; and the miniature ‘Minimus’, with leaves just 1/8 in (3 mm) long, and forming a mat just 2 in (5 cm) high and 4 in (10 cm) across. Cultivars of var. serpyllum include ‘Annie Hall’, which has pale purple flowers produced in beauteous abundance; ‘Aureus’, with yellowish foliage; and ‘Carol Ann’, which has leaves with striking gold margins. Altogether, there are at least 40 named cultivars of wild thyme.
Thymus serpyllum was originally native to northwestern Europe. It has escaped cultivation and become established in parts of northeastern North America.
Light: Wild thyme does best in full sun. Moisture: Wild thyme does best on neutral to calcareous soils that are very well drained. Water when the soil is completely dry. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9 . Propagation: The tiny seeds should be sown in containers, preferably in spring. Propagation is usually accomplished by division or from cuttings, as seeds often will not come true. Sections of stem may be cut off and replanted; segments where roots have already begun forming work best. Large mounds can be split apart in the root mass.
Use wild thyme as a small area ground cover, along pathways, in sunny borders or in rock gardens and stone walls. Wild thyme is vigorous and trouble free, and tolerant of infertile, dry soils. Wild thyme can be planted in sidewalk cracks and between paving stones, where moderate foot traffic will release its fragrance. Grow wild thyme in a container where it can spill over the sides. The summer flowering period is 6-8 weeks or more.
Wild thyme is as pleasantly aromatic as many of the thymes used in sachets, potpourris, and as culinary herbs, including common thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Cut sprays of foliage before the flowers open and dry quickly for later use as a dried herb.
Wild thyme is a favorite flower of honeybees, and is visited by hummingbirds and several species of butterflies.
The distinctive fragrances of the thymes (and most mints) come from the family of chemicals called terpenes which are released from the tiny glandular hairs on the leaves and stems. One of the essential oils in thyme is thymol, which has value as an antiseptic, disinfectant and deodorizer, and is used in toothpastes and mouth washes. Very popular among herbalists, it also may aid in the digestion of fatty foods. Ancient Egyptians used thymol in their embalming recipes.
There are more than 300 species in the genus, Thymus, occurring in Europe and Asia. Many are quite similar to each other. Cultivated thymes are often of uncertain origin, many being hybrids and many being incorrectly named. Plants sold as T. serpyllum and its cultivars in the US could actually be T. pseudolanuginosus, T. pulegioides, T. nummularis, or T. pannonicus.
Steve Christman 8/16/17