Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) or the Bee Balm is often mistaken for a Canadian Thistle (Cirsium arvense), but it is native to all of the United States and so perfectly adapted that it was thought to be a common weed. (Canadian thistle is a perennial native throughout Europe and western Asia, northern Africa and widely introduced elsewhere.)
The Flower (Reference The Parts of a Flower)
At the top of major stems are rounded heads of flowers about 1 to 3 inches across. Clusters of lavender, pink or white flowers, looking like ragged pompoms, bloom atop 2 to 5-foot, open-branched stems. The flowers begin blooming in the center of the head, gradually moving toward its periphery, forming a wreath of flowers.
Its species name, fistulosa, refers to the tube-like structure of its blossoms. The flowers are tubular and bilaterally symmetric, with a narrow upper lip and a wider lower lip. The Wild Bergamot are single, and they are hermaphroditic, with male and female structures. The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower is called the stamen, and this plant has two of them.
Plants grow 2 to 4-feet tall with a 3-foot spread. The rhizomes typically send up multiple leafy steams in a tight cluster, giving Wild Bergamot a bushy appearance. The root system consists of deep, strong-branched roots, and shallow rhizomes that are responsible for the spread of the plant. The blooming occurs in mid-summer and lasts about four to six weeks.
The Stem and Leaves
The light-green stems are four-angled and hairless. The opposite leaves are broadly lanceolate to ovate, and vary in color from light green to dark green, sometimes with yellow or red tints. These color variations are in part a response to environmental conditions. The hairless leaves are up to 4 inches long and 2 inches across, and have serrated margins.
Wild Bergamot grows in any conditions, but it grows best in sunny, slightly moist soil. Because the species is prone to powdery mildew, providing good air circulation is important. Monarda fistulosa is widespread and abundant as a native plant in much of Quebec to the Northwest Territories and British Columbia, south to Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Idaho, and northeastern Washington.
Notes: The species with bright carmine red flowers is Monarda didyma and is only found in eastern North America from Maine, west to Ontario and Minnesota, and south to northern Georgia. The species with the pale purple flowers is Monarda citriodora, which is found in the southern United States and Mexico.
The corolla divides into a tubular upper lip with projecting stamens, and three slender lower lips that function as landing pads for visiting insects. The stamen is the pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower. The nectar of the Wild Bergamot attracts long-tongued bees – bumblebees, Miner bees, Epeoline Cuckoo bees, large Leaf-Cutting bees, and also small black bees, Halictid bees and wasps. It is visited by butterflies, skippers and hummingbird moths and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. The plant is said to be resistant to deer and rabbit predations….
This showy perennial has aromatic leaves often used to make mint tea. The crushed leaves of all species exude a spicy, fragrant essential oil. Oil from the leaves was formerly used to treat respiratory ailments.
“Several species, including Monarda fistulosa and M. didyma, have a long history of use as medicinal plants by many Native Americans, such as the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa and Winnebago. The Blackfoot recognized the strong antiseptic action of the plants, and used them in poultices for skin infections and minor wounds. Native Americans and later settlers also used it to alleviate stomach and bronchial ailments…Bee balm is a natural source of the antiseptic compound used in some modern commercial mouthwash formulas.” (Wiki)
“Although somewhat bitter, the plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano. Bee balm was traditionally used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, particularly birds.” (Wiki)