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Wild Bergamot, the Bees’ Delight

Jim Lakin MD, Master Gardner

Watching bees and butterflies hovering over lavender-topped Wild Bergamot on a quiet summer afternoon is a delightful moment. It is just one of the reasons to include this native plant in your garden. Read this article to learn more about the environmental benefits and other charms of this beautiful plant.

Wild Bergamot, the Bees’ Delight

There are a number of varieties of Monarda fistulosa, differing in their color and odor.  As you might imagine it is a popular source of nectar for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies as well as being a larval host for the orange mint moth and the hermit sphinx moth.  It has been widely used as a medicinal plant by Native Americans and indeed it is high in thymol, an organic compound with antimicrobial properties.

Bergamot grows fairly easily in any good garden soil in full sun to partial shade.  Clumps of plants divide easily. It can be grown from seed although stratification (exposure to damp cold air) for a month helps. It is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) although it is not terribly invasive. Bergamot forms clumps which can reach 4 feet. It works nicely as a perennial border but it is at its best in a natural landscape or in a prairie restoration, blooming in late summer. That blooming produces lipped, light to dark lavender purple flowers, arranged in a whorl around a rounded flower head. The seed heads will hold into the winter providing visual interest as well as distinctive bergamot aroma. Speaking of aroma, being a native herb, the dried or macerated leaves can be boiled to produce a fragrant tea.

It usually is quite hardy, although Wild Bergamot does tend to develop mildew on the leaves in late summer. This is a purely cosmetic issue and not one to warrant a chemical onslaught. Instead, relax and enjoy bergamot’s showy flowers and swarms of colorful, intriguing insects.

Photo credit: My Patriot Supply (1), Jeff Fleming (2) & Julie Harris (3)

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