Many gardeners are already familiar with beebalm (also commonly called Oswego Tea). There are a variety of cultivars and hybrids available at most garden centers with enticing names – such as ‘Coral Reef’ or ‘Raspberry Wine’. Gardeners have been using beebalm in their gardens for years – it is a great choice for attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators and is a beautiful splash of summer color.
The Monardas can spread quite rapidly, so many people use them in more natural, meadow-type gardens – and still end up dividing the plants every few years to keep them in check. While just about every book you read says beebalm grows 3-4 ft high – it is taller than me in my garden this summer – which means it reached 6 ft! Many of the cultivars stay smaller – but the straight species can really grow if it is happy. We just planted the display garden last summer over Memorial Day Weekend – and I put the Culver’s Root behind the beebalm – but now you can’t see the Culver’s root over the beebalm – so I will have to do some rearranging next spring I think.
The group of plants in the Monarda genus are often just called beebalm as a whole – even though there are many distinct species. And many gardeners don’t realize that we have a number of different native monardas in our area – in fact monarda is a North American genus of over a dozen species.
Since there are so many cultivars of different colors of Beebalm available at many retail centers, I have found many visitors to the nursery just saying that they would like the ‘lavender one’ or the ‘red one’ – not realizing that they are in fact different species. At many garden centers, they may in fact just be different cultivars of the same plant, but at our nursery – the ‘red one’ and the ‘lavendar one’ are in fact two entirely different species – Beebalm (Monarda didyma) and Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). While both are considered native to NY according to the NY Plant Atlas – we have stands of lavender Wild Bergamot blooming in the fields around us right now – but I must say I can’t ever remember seeing the red Beebalm in bloom in nature. I guess it must be out there somewhere…
Besides the more well known Beebalm and Wild Bergamot, we have some other great monardas for gardens in NY as well. Monarda media, Purple beebalm, is another nice choice. It is very similar to Monarda fistulosa in color. One that looks quite different is Monarda punctata, called Spotted Beebalm or Spotted Horsemint. While the flowers are smaller, the bracts around the flowers take on color, creating a unique effect I think. It stays shorter than its relatives – so it works well planted in front of the taller beebalm and bergamot. It can also take a drier, poorer soil than its taller siblings. We just started growing this one at the nursery this year – and I am definitely a fan!
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