Among the many native plants of North America, there’s one that every summer stuns me with its beauty and its important role in our ecosystems and our lives. In today’s post, I want to share some information about a lovely group of plants local to right here, which can be easily grown in our green spaces, and which one can observe flowering right now: beebalms!
What are beebalms?
Beebalms are a group of plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae) that belong to the genus Monarda. This genus is restricted to North America and includes several species. In Maryland, there are at least four species present, one of which (M. clinopodia, the basil beebalm) is currently listed as requiring conservation actions (listed as Vulnerable). The other three species (M. didyma, M. fistulosa, M. punctata) appear to be relatively common in the region and are easy to grow in our green spaces. All species reach about 2 to 5 feet in height and are great additions to flower beds because of their beauty but also because they act as biodiversity magnets. For example, the genus Monarda has been recognized as supporting at least three rare and specialist bee species in the Eastern USA, and attracting a lot of natural enemies of pests, meaning that providing these floral resources can support the populations of bee species that depend on the pollen of these plants for their nutrition and help us naturally control pests in our green spaces. And last but not least, later in the season their fruits support birds and, if left uncut, their stems offer overwintering spaces for arthropods.
Scarlet beebalm (M. didyma)
This is a perennial species with dark red flowers that bloom during the summer. As for all beebalms, the flower heads are formed by many elongated flowers that harbor abundant nectar. The plant is incredibly attractive to pollinators, acting as a magnet to bees of all sizes, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Besides its great support to pollinators and other arthropods, this species (along with M. fistulosa) has medicinal properties, which have been identified and used since immemorable times by Native Americans. The very name of beebalm is even related to these uses, since the plant can be used to produce poultices that help with skin affections, including bee stings. Preparations of the plant are also traditionally used to help with digestive and respiratory issues. Finally, as for many mint plants, this species is rich in essential oils, which makes it a good one to flavor foods like one would do with oregano and mint. You can learn more about how to grow this species, along with other facts on this USDA information sheet.
Scarlet beebalms display red flower heads that offer abundant nectar to a large variety of vertebrate and invertebrate pollinators. Photos: A. Espíndola, J. Schneid (CC)Continue reading