Photo: John Geiz
English born, John Bartram spent more than thirty years exploring Northeast America in search of new plants. He discovered Asters and Goldenrod and many others, despite numerous inconveniences such as rattlesnakes. Monarda, known also as Bee Balm was one of his finds.
It is a member of the mint family and spreads rapidly, but butterflies, hummingbirds and bees are grateful for this, since they find it very enticing indeed. It is an aromatic perennial, with erect square stems and roots that are easily dislodged when we need to rip some out.
Also known as Bergamot, the leaves are a popular flavor for tea, though the leaves hold no interest at all for grazing deer. It grows in sun or part shade, but is susceptible to powdery mildew, which while not slowing it down, does make the leaves look less attractive, so cut the plants down once they have bloomed. The blooms are scarlet, purple, pink and white, somewhat shaggy, but vibrant and appealing both in the garden in a bold clump, or in a vase.
Stand the flowers in deep water for a few hours before you arrange them, to extend their vase life. Most of the plants are 36″ tall, but there are some dwarf varieties of Monarda and also some claimed to be mildew resistant. If you have a lot of space and want a vigorous easy to grow plant that chokes out most weeks, let it naturalize where it won’t be a problem. Otherwise, you must be ruthless to keep it contained.