Dotted Horsemint: an Appreciation
|The purple dots on the pale flowers are the reason for the|
common and scientific names. The flowers are arranged
in a whorl above the pinkish bracts.
Dotted horsemint or spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) is found in all but the southernmost counties in Florida and its range continues northward to include three Canadian provinces, westward to Wisconsin southward to New Mexico and jumps over to California.
(USDA plants page, FNPS plants page)
The dotted horsemint is an herbaceous perennial that dies back in the winter in north Florida and comes back from the roots. It seeds readily, so once you have some, you can collect the seed in the late fall and sow them into pots or spread on soil that has been raked to loosen the crusty layer.
It occurs along roadsides, on sand dunes, in meadows, in scrub areas, and in butterfly gardens–it is an incredible insect magnet. The height depends on the soil: in a sand dune, it will grow to about a foot tall, but in a garden with rich loamy soil, it can reach to six feet or more. When it grows tall, it tends to lean over, so if you want to maintain a neat look, trim it back in the early summer, but it’s best in a meadow area where the height or the leaning blend into the background.
|A dotted horsemint flower head where the florets are in bud.|
The stalk in the center supports another flower head and
there are two flower heads below this one. The cascading
flowerheads create quite a show.
The monardas belong to the mint family, Lamiaceae, as you might guess from their square stems and opposite leaves, but the monarda flowers are grouped together in a whorl to form showy flower heads. This species forms towers of flower heads and each floret is a pale yellow with purple dots surrounded by more or less pink bracts. Generally it’s much showier than the other mint family members.
|Dotted horsemint: insect magnets...|
Like many other members of the mint family, dotted horsemint produces a strong odor when the leaves are crushed and sometimes the odor is obvious as you approach a population. The volatile chemical produced is thymol, which is the same chemical in thyme and oregano leaves. So if you’re tired of convincing those boring-looking Mediterranean herbs to love Florida’s climate and soil, substitute the gorgeous, easy-to-grow, salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant, native dotted horsemint. The taste is the same; plus both you and the insects will be much happier.
|In a garden, the six-foot tall stems tend to lean over. After a heavy rainstorm |
with moderate wind, they'll all lie down. Trim them in early summer if
you'd like to manage their ranginess.
A woman I know likes to crush mint leaves and freeze them in her ice cubes and use them in her mint juleps, but this savory mint would be more appropriate in a bloody Mary. Cheers!
|Roadside monardas mixed with a less showy mint family member and some ferns.|