Wild Bergamot, A Showy Native Mint

Monarda fistulosa is commonly called Horsemint, Wild Bergamot, and Bee Balm. As with many native plants found in the Rocky Mountains and Western Plains,  it was used  by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, from headaches to bronchitis. Even today it is used as a component in some herbal tea mixes, and the flowers are said to be tasty in salads.

Monarda fistulosa attract butterflies
Monarda fistulosa attracts butterflies

Bees,  hummingbirds, and butterflies are attracted to the nectar of these eye catching bright, soft pink blossoms. As a member of the mint family, it has a characteristic minty, yet spicy fragrance.  This perennial is usually 2 to 3 feet high in its native habitat in central Wyoming. The flowers bloom from early July to September at my elevation of 5200 feet, making Monarda a welcome addition to the home landscape.  The native plants index records Beebalm as tolerant of rich, sandy, and clay soils.

The seeds of Monarda fistulosa should be collected after the flower heads are shriveled and dry. Seeds are black when mature. The seeds need cold stratification for high germination. This can be done artificially, or seeds can be sown in flats and put outside in January to provide  natural exposure to cold and moisture.

Showy Native Beebalm
Showy Native Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Naturally occurring Wild Bergamot is found in thickets, along streams, and on forest edges. It perfers sunny places and a modestly moist, but well drained soil. The plant spreads by rhizomes, so include plenty of space when planning. You will be able to share this plant with gardening friends after two or three years. Divide the mature plants in very early spring just as they begin to green.

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