Bee Balm is the common name for plants belonging to the Monarda genus, which contains at least 21 different species of flowering herbs. These flowers can be found in a variety of colors, and that makes them a favorite for gardens and lawns where they serve beautifully as ornaments.
On top of the many species, there are at least 50 commercial cultivars developed by interbreeding the different species; their colors range from dark red, mahogany to pink and bluish lilac. Some have also been developed to provide enhanced medicinal and other benefits. They are used in essential oils for their fragrance.
The fascinating little quirk that most people plant this flower for is that it has the ability to attract hummingbirds and other pollinating creatures like butterflies and bees. Let us have an in-depth look at these flowers while discovering their habitat and ecology, and discussing various species and cultivars that belong to this genus.
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Growing to be about 20-29 cm in height, these herbaceous plants produce flowers annually or perennially depending on species. The leaves are slender, serrated, and arrange parallel to each other, usually with very few hairs.
The flowers have a tubular shape and are symmetrical, with a wider lower lip. While the flowers usually appear individually, some cultivars are created to have two of them on one stem. The color range can be anywhere between warm reds and cool blues. It is interesting that the seeds obtained from hybrid cultivars do not produce plants identical to parents.
Source: Edible Wild Food
Genus Monarda belongs to the tribe Mentheae of subfamily Nepetoideae, which is the mint family. Monarda is subdivided into two discrete subgenera, namely Monarda and Cheilyctis, which differ from each other in several characteristics.
The genus is native to the North American region, where it grows in sunny places, on moist and well-drained soil. If enough sun is not provided to the plant, it grows horizontally and does not produce many flowers.
Bee Balm flowers are usually planted in flower beds to attract pollinating insects and those who prey on garden pests.
Source: American Meadows
The flowers provide many bees, butterflies, and birds with nectar; they in turn help pollinate the flower and help in increasing its population. Moreover, some Lepidoptera species use them as food sources.
Types by Species
Out of the 21 species that belong to genus Monarda, here are some of the important ones commonly found around North America.
This species is lavender in color and occurs in the mountain ranges of Tamaulipas, Mexico. They are about 4 inches tall and slightly fragrant. Monardo bartletti is naturally mildew resistance and thus easier to grow for long periods of time. The flowers usually attract bees with the most fervor.
Source: Plant Delights
Eastern Bee Balm
Known by the scientific name Monarda bradburiana, this flower is best grown in medium moisture soil. The blossoms are usually light pink or white with spotted petals. Their leaves are aromatic and oblong, while the blooms last for the entire summer. It is best used in informal plantings.
Source: New Moon Nursery
Lemon Bee Balm
Monarda citriodora, also known as lemon mint, is native to the southern United States and northern Mexico. It is a hardy plant that grows flowers annually or biannually; typically in rocky prairies and dry pastures from South Carolina to the west of Missouri. The tall, tubular structure of these flowers sets them apart from other species. The upper stem may be structured in whorls.
The common name is lemon mint because of a distinctive lemony smell in the flowers.
Source: Missouri Botanical Garden
As its common name suggests, this flower is stark white in color and is commonly found in the eastern United States, especially the Appalachians. It is a perennial that grows to a maximum of 1.3 meters in height and is known for attracting wildlife. The species is a hermaphrodite, meaning it has both male and female organs in the same plant.
It can be grown easily in sandy, loamy, or clay-like soils where pH is slightly acidic where some sun is available.
Basil Bee Balm
Easily found in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, the Basil Bee Balm flower is white or cream colored, with a lengthy corolla tube and two separate lips. This is an annual herb that can grow taller than 30cm in height, producing bunched pink or purple flowers with green bracts on their upper leaves.
Source: US Wildflowers
Scarlet Bee Balm
These are the most commonly found Bee Balm flowers in the wild. They are scarlet in color as the name suggests, and that attracts plenty of bright creatures to its aromatic nectar. The plant is also used in teas and as essential oil because of its soothing odor. The species is named didyma, meaning twins, since the stamens always grow in pairs.
If you are used to hiking in the mountains, you may come across this wildflower in shady woods alongside streams in clusters. It also goes by the names fragrant balm and mountain-mint, occurring widely in the Appalachiansn and eastern Canada.
Source: USDA Forest Service
With other common names such as mint leaf bee balm, horse-mint, and purple bee balm, these flowers are widespread across most of the United States and Canada where they occur naturally; otherwise, they are cultivated in China and elsewhere manually through hybrid cultivars.
Fistulosa has beautiful lavender (or pink) leaves that can quickly become affected by mildew if the herb is not kept in very sunny and dry conditions. Since it is drought resistant, it needs dry sunny weather to thrive.
The leaves are edible whether dry or cooked, and the plant is sometimes made into tea since it was believed to be a cure for colds and similar ailments; commonly known as Oswego tea. Another culinary use is as garnish in salads.
Source: Edible Wild Food
Spotted Bee Balm
The spotted Bee Balm flower, scientific name Monarda fruticulosa, is found exclusively in southern Texas. It is usually 1-3 inches tall, with sparingly spread unbranched leafy stems. The flowers are cream colored and grow in tall bunches.
The flower has an upper lip and a lower lip, both of which are long and narrow. The flower can occur in pink, lavender, or nearly white varieties with several leafy bracts underneath each whorl.
They occur in full sun and dry weather conditions and are very attractive to caterpillars and moths.
Source: Illinois Wild Flower
Lindheimer’s Bee Balm
Monarda lindheimeri is easily found in Texas, Louisiana, and southwestern Arkansas. It is an extremely rare flower that appears in white clusters that attract bees and butterflies. Since there are only 28 occurrences recorded of the flowers since its discovery, its status has been classified as endangered in all three states.
Seaside Bee Balm
Found solely at the coastal plain of Texas, the seaside Bee Balm is a much-endangered species of the Monarda genus. Because of suburban development and the recreational sector, the northern part of its range is under threat. There have been less than a hundred occurrences.
Endemic to Ontario in Canada and some eastern US states, the purple bergamot grows more than 3 feet high, branched into hairless upper stems with grey hair at the stem angles. The leaves are stalked and lance-shaped at the top of a triangle base.
All green parts of the plant smell distinctly like oregano when crushed, and despite their name ‘bergamot, they are not the ones added in Earl Grey tea. These flowers are loved by butterflies and long-tongued bees.
The flowers are reddish purple in color and they open from the center, progressing to the outward edges.
Source: Friends of the Wildflower Garden
Pony Bee Balm
Monarda pectinata commonly grows in central to the southwestern United States, particularly in Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and desert regions. The plant is a perennial that grows about 1 meter in height and is a hermaphrodite.
It prefers slightly acidic soil and it cannot grow in shade. The flowers are arranged in whorls that are very light lavender in color and almost look white. Other interesting uses of the plant are in medicine for coughs, colds, fevers, and stomach complaints. Some people use it as a wash for bites and stings.
Source: Plants for a Future
Redpurple Bee Balm
The flowers of this species are usually white in color, often with a pink or purple tinge. It is a perennial herb that holds special value for bumblebees who often feed on it. The species has had less than 70 sightings.
Source: Southeastern Flora
Stanfield’s Bee Balm
Discovered and commonly found in Central Texas, Monarda stanfieldi has a major distinguishing feature which is that its calyx is closed by a dense mass of silvery white hairs. Even after the flowers have wilted, this special feature remains observable and makes it easy for botanists and horticulturists to identify.
The range of occurrence is very limited as the species has only ever been noticed in the Texan region.
Types by Cultivar
On top of the various species that we just learned about, there are about 50 different cultivars of the Bee Balm plant; some of these occur naturally, while others are manually cultivated to extract the best results. Here are some of the most popular ones.
Beauty of Cobham
This particular cultivar is developed to be clump-forming and highly aromatic. It is herbaceous like other members of the species and has ovate leaves with terminal whorls of double-lipped flowers that bloom from midsummer to early autumn.
The maximum height seems to be 90 cm, while the length of flowers is usually 5 cm with contrasting purple calyxes. It has purplish green leaves placed right under the flowers.
The Gardenview Scarlet is an award-winning cultivar that has clump-forming, bright red blossoms blooming for weeks on end. The bracts that hold the flowers are a pink-tinged green and delightfully fragrant. They can grow in partial or full shade in moderately fertile soil.
The Royal Horticulture Society awarded this cultivar the ‘Award of Garden Merit’ for its perfect mildew and drought resistant qualities. Since the entire plant is edible, you can add it to anything from salads to teas in order to enjoy the flavor and essence fully.
These deep pink flowers grow all through the summer and early fall and have multiple interesting characteristics. They attract butterflies, are rabbit and deer tolerant, and can resist mildew for long periods of time. They grow fast and blossom even faster.
Soil with any kind of pH can be used for the plantation of these flowers, which makes them a hardy variety. The selection has been sourced from wildflowers that grow in North American.
This vigorous Bee Balm selection is a hybrid that mainly blooms in midsummer with a magnificent display of lavender-pink blossoms. It has been modified to be easily planted in pots and borders.
These flowers require full sun, average soil, and can be grown easily in any part of the US. If the weather is particularly cold or sterile, compost-enriched garden loam can be added to provide aid to the herbaceous perennial.
Source: High Country Gardens
Also known as ‘Petite Delight,’ this cultivar is hybridized to have the brightest pink color imaginable. The perennial plant grows in partial to full shade. It is also commonly known as Horsemint Bergamot.
Squaw is a bright red cultivar of the herbaceous Monarda genus that grows in warm soil in summer months. They can be easily grown in pots, be it outdoors or indoors if there is plenty of sunlight.
The flowers are born in dense, globular structures that bloom for weeks and attract plenty of fascinating creatures. The leaves are bright green and have a beautiful fragrance that makes the plantation a delight to pass by.
‘Squaw’ is also an award-winning cultivar because of its above par resistance to powdery mildew when moist.
Source: Mr. Fothergills
Planting and Growing Bee Balm Flowers
Bee Balm flowers could not be easier to plant. Because of the simplicity with which you can grow them and the minimal upkeep requirements, many people choose these flowers for their gardens.
The plant can survive small periods of drought, but investing in a layer of mulch will help protect it from drying out. Make sure to have the best drainage system, since the roots are shallow-rooted and can easily get overwatered.
Here are some tips to remember when planting a Bee Balm:
- Try planting in early spring or late fall.
- Make sure there is plenty of direct sunlight
- Plant them at least 18 inches apart in drained soil.
- Provide plenty of water at the time of planting.
- Make sure that the air circulation is sufficient.
After they have sprouted, keep providing water sporadically and encourage the stems to re-bloom by deadheading faded flowers and protecting them from frost in winter days.
Ways to Use Bee Balm
As a Home Remedy for Mild Ailments
Bee Balm has antimicrobial and soothing qualities that make it an effective treatment for cold, flu, and other respiratory illnesses. The digestive tract can also benefit from teas made by steeping Bee Balm flowers; even nausea, bloating, and menstrual can be curbed with its help. It can also be used as a salve for mild cuts and scrapes.
Herbal steam made from boiled Bee Balm leaves and flowers can help a lot in clearing nasal passages. An active ingredient in the plant is ‘thymol’ which is used in pharmaceutical nasal decongestants. The dried herb is also available in sachet form.
To Make Vinegar and Mead
Because of its captivating fragrance, Bee Balm flowers can easily be converted into tasty mead by adding honey and yeast; it will typically be ready in about 6 weeks. The flowers can also be infused into raw apple cider vinegar that has medicinal properties, but can also be used in salad dressings and marinades.
Bee Balm flowers are edible and can easily be made into cakes, cupcakes, biscuits, and even bread! The flowers have intense flavor compounds that add a herbal touch to baked goods.
Bee Balm petals can also be used as salad toppers if you want to give a colorful and nutritious touch to your home-made salad.
Source: Practical Self-Reliance
If you are interested in decorating your garden or flower bed with the most beautiful flower species in the season without putting in too much effort, the Bee Balm plant is your best bet. The flowers are long-blooming and occur in many different colors to provide you with a diverse aesthetic experience and their fragrance will leave you sniffing every time you pass by. If they seem like the kind of flowers that belong around your home, get planting!