Friday, July 16, 2010

The Monarda Patch

Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, has just begun its blooming season at Blue Jay Barrens. The opening of these lavender blooms is a Siren’s call to the large butterfly species. A Tiger Swallowtail is filling up on nectar.

Monarda is a plant of the open fields and grows best in the deep moist soils of the small valleys. The success of the blooming season is, to a large extent, influenced by the weather in early May, when the Monarda is just beginning to grow. A May frost can kill back the top growth and radically decrease the number of blooms.

Hanging around the Monarda patch is a great way to see a variety of butterflies. This is the Silver-Spotted Skipper.

Most visiting butterflies are of the larger species such as this Pipevine Swallowtail. The tube shaped flowers are too deep to allow the smaller species to reach the nectar.

It’s almost impossible to view a field of Monarda without seeing some butterflies. In another week, this area will appear almost solid lavender.

Deep soils mean tall plants. Joining the Monarda are other tall growing species such as milkweeds, dogbane, coneflowers and the tall grasses.

Monarda is a perennial plant that branches out to produce a large number of blooms. I’ve found the seed to be extremely easy to germinate and have introduced the plant into new areas by shredding the dry seed heads and throwing them into suitable areas.

Monarda is a mint with square stems and the typical irregular flower shape. Having the oddly shaped petals arranged in this type of circular pattern can give the flower head an unkept appearance. I sometimes think this flower is viewed to best advantage as a mass at a distance.

The developing flower bud is protected by a cluster of leaf-like bracts. In some ways, this cluster of bracts is just as attractive as the bloom.

Blooming begins in the center of the disk and progresses outward. The result is an area of baldness that increases in size as the next rank of flowers opens, gets pollinated and loses its petals.

There are still a lot of yet to open flowers between the current blooms and the now fully extended bracts. Each successive layer of flowers is more oriented to the horizontal and gives the flower head the appearance of being in decline. We still have a couple of weeks before that happens.


  1. Monarda is beautiful! There is a cultivated garden variety, isn't there? Sounds and looks very familiar. Thanks for the little lesson today and for the beautiful butterfly pictures. Monarda. I like how that sounds. ~karen

  2. So very pretty. I enjoy my walks with you and your camera and I learn a great deal about my area of the world at the same time.

  3. Yes, Karen, the cultivated variety is usually referred to as Bee Balm. I've seen color varieties, but the standard is bright red.

    Lois - You should be able to see much of what I talk about in your area. I hope you do.

  4. I've just planted some Monarda in our little nascent prairie garden out the front. It's like crack for bumble bees.

  5. Hi, Alex. I've noticed the same thing. You can't get close to Monarda without hearing the deep buzz of the Bumble Bee.