Focus on Natives: Dotted Horsemint

Jill Staake

Butterfly gardeners love monarda varieties, often called beebalm, for their interesting flowers and ability to draw butterflies to the garden by dozens. But those in hot and humid climates can often have trouble growing the more common species like Monarda didyma, and for those folks, the answer is Monarda punctata, also known as Spotted Beebalm and Dotted Horsemint.

Photo by Jill Staake

Dotted horsemint is a wildflower native to the eastern U.S., from Vermont south to Florida and west to eastern Texas. It’s drought-tolerant but doesn’t mind having its feet wet, and will in fact flower more profusely when given regular access to water.  Like other bee balms, the flower heads are “stacked” up the stem, blooming from bottom to top.  It grows quickly, up to 4 feet tall in the right environment, and just as wide if you allow it to. The flowers themselves are small but delicately lovely, grouped into heads and underlined by bracts (modified leaves that resemble flower petals).

Photo by Jill Staake

Although it’s commonly called “horsemint” and is indeed a member of the mint family (Lamiacaea), this plant’s leaves actually smell like oregano when crushed, and some people use it as a substitute in cooking. Native Americans brewed it into tea to treat colds and flu. Wildlife gardeners will value it for its ability to draw in pollinators by the dozens, and its ability to withstand the powdery mildew that often takes down other monardas here in the Southeast.

Do you grow Monarda punctata? Tell us about it in the comments!

Every weekend, the Focus on Natives segment highlights a plant, bird, or butterfly native to the Southeastern U.S. Know of a particular species you’d like to see featured here? Make your suggestions in the comments section below.

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