Dotted Horsemint: an Appreciation

A short piece about a tall mint…

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.

Dotted horsemint growing in the sand dunes in Anatasia State Park in
St. Augustine. In an unscientific study, the taste of the leaves from these
plants were stronger than those raised in a garden and purchased as plants from
a native plant nursery. The bracts were also much pinker, but the plants were only
about a foot tall compared to six feet tall in the garden.

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.
Ginny Stibolt


walk2write said…
Lovely plants and healthy to boot! Having recently moved to an ecologically sensitive area (according to some of the residents) near Havana, FL, I appreciate all the help I can get on planting advice. For instance, a friend from the southeast part of Tallahassee just dug and shared some hardy ginger plants with me. They have variegated leaves, some with orange, some with white blossoms. In her yard, they grew seven feet tall and reproduced quite readily. I'm thinking I should limit them to pots because I don't want to create any more herbaceous havoc than is already here in the neighborhood. What's your opinion? Is it possible that even pots won't keep them down (seed dispersal)?
Nanette O'Hara said…
One of my favorite signs of fall is seeing the horsemint lining the roadways and forest edges. Such a lovely plant and such a carefree choice for a home wildflower garden. Economical too -- plant one and watch them spread the next year!
MACMAN said…
I live in South Florida and hardly see any beautiful Flowers like the ones you have in this blog. Since I am near the ocean, I only have sea grass, sea grapes, and dolphins swimming in the ocean.
Anonymous said…
I've always admired this plant on my walks here in Citrus county. It's quite common.
Lovely photo, J.P.! Thanks for sharing!
I don’t see any mention of zones in the article. Saying it will grow in all but the southernmost counties is not helpful. Example: is Palm Beach county considered one of the southernmost? If so, does that include all of Palm Beach county. Using zones in an educational article is really valuable information.
Hello Vicky!

We have a map of the zones for dotted horsemint on our Plant Profile page: I've added that link into the article. Thanks for pointing that out.

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