Monarda Is Calling All Bees


Bee balm, also known as bergamot and/or Oswego tea, Monarda didyma is so named not as a balm to make our little pollinator friends more comfortable, but rather for the soothing properties of its crushed leaves when applied to bee stings. Bee stings? Well, they will sting if grabbed or stepped upon, or their nest is disturbed. We find the bees to be good neighbors out and about in the garden here, but we have been stung, when wearing a long flowing skirt at the time the Ajuga was in bloom along the edges of the stairway to the Knot Garden. But that is another story…


Monarda didyma was discovered by botanist John Bartram and given the common name of Oswego Tea after it was noted that the Native Americans of northern New York into Ontario used the leaves for a medicinal beverage. The genus was named for Nicolas Bautista Monardes, a sixteenth century Spanish physician who established a botanical garden in Seville to study plants brought back from the New World.

July 5, 2009 016 (2)
Monarda likes sun or part shade and is moisture loving, but will grow in drier soils, as evidenced by its presence on the well drained slopes of the Fairegarden. The plants we grow, M. ‘Marshall’s Delight’, M. ‘Raspberry Wine’, M. ‘Jacob Kline’, M. ‘Pink Lace’ and M. ‘Blue Stockings’ struggle somewhat here in times of drought, but do well enough to earn their keep by attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and countless other pollinators.


The plants like to move about from year to year with running roots, and are welcome wherever they pop up. The leaves can be afflicted with powdery mildew, which may be unacceptable to those gardeners who require pristine perfection. That is not the case, so not the case, with the attitude about appearance here, be it in the garden, in the house or in the color of our hair. We are naturalists. Imperfection is a natural fact.


Beautiful in the landscape, Monarda has a very long period of prettiness throughout most of the summer and is allowed to stand in the fall after it has turned to sepia tones for the interesting shape of the seedheads and as food for wildlife.


Even after the petals have become tattered and are less than perky, the bees continue to visit until first frost and afterwards.


The bees love Monarda so much, they will grab a quick forty winks, or more whilst hanging onto the petals. I woke this little sweetheart with the click of the camera and away he buzzed to visit more of the balming blooms. Pardon me!

Some facts about Monarda didyma:
Use Ornamental: Valued for its bright flowers and minty aroma.
Use Wildlife: Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees are attracted to the blossoms.
Use Food: Occasionally used in Earl Grey tea.
Use Medicinal: Its medicinal uses include expelling worms, and for treating gas, fever and stomach ailments. The name Oswego Tea comes from the fact that the leaves were used for a tea by the Oswego Indains of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for this purpose when regular tea was scarce. The name Beebalm comes from the folk use of crushed leaves to soothe bee stings.
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Size Notes: Normally 2 to 4 feet tall, but can get to 6 feet
zone 4-9

Give a lift to your pollinator friends. Try some Monarda and watch them flock to your garden. You’ll be glad you did.

Frances

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22 Responses to Monarda Is Calling All Bees

  1. Elizabeth McLeod says:

    I love bee balm…..have grown it in our garden for years Frances. I was recently in Bellingham, Washington where I saw 6 ft.high by 3.5ft wide ornamental plantings of bright red monarda all along a 3 km. waterfront….it was spectacular! It was spaced between clumps of tall blue salvia, rudbeckia and crocmosia(sp?).

    Looking forward to another visit in Fairgarden…..enjoy your blossoms, fairies and the wind in the trees.

    Hi Elizabeth, thanks for visiting. I was wondering where the Monarda could grow to six feet tall, but remember seeing it close to that in Buffalo last year at the garden blogger meetup. We should be seeing it in Seattle that tall in a couple of weeks. Hooray!
    Frances

  2. Carol says:

    Bee balm is the bee’s knees for all the bees, a bee attractant that should always bee in our gardens.

    Hi Carol, it seems you are all aboard for the Bee Balm, as it should bee. Thanks!
    Frances

  3. Paul Daniels says:

    I’ve grown bee balm for years, ‘Jacob Cline’ and read about it everywhere I see something about it, but your “story” about bee balm was about the best one yet, good to read, informative, fun and beautiful photos….One year I gave the ladies over at the garden club in Jacksonville, Ala. about 40 nice plants after dividing them to kinda keep them from running over my ‘George Davison’ crocosmia. Bee balm is so easy to divide and to care for, its just a wonderful plant. One more thing, I was hiking in the Smoky Mountains onetine near what they call Cosby Campground and took one of the hikes near there and walked up on a stand of wild Monarda growing near a creek, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in nature, plant wise…..again thanks for the post, it was great.

    Hi Paul, thanks so much for reading and those glowing words, much appreciated! You are lucky to have so much Monarda as to be able to share it, we struggle to keep it going on our super dry slope here. The stand of wild Monarda must have been breathtaking, no one plants as well as Mother Nature.
    Frances

  4. Racquel says:

    It is welcome in my garden for all those things you mentioned Frances. 🙂

    Hi Racquel, thanks for visiting. I am glad to hear you also grow this fine plant.
    Frances

  5. Great info, F. I don’t have any pink and may need to add that. Your photos are outstanding. H.

    Thanks Helen. The pink is quite dark, but blooms earlier than the others here, a nice trait.
    Frances

  6. Sue Lentell says:

    Frances-Love your blog-your photos, the info you have to share-thanks so much! Sue

    Thank you, Sue. Those kind words mean a lot to me.
    Frances

  7. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, I do so love monarda and wish I had a constantly moist garden spot to keep the cultivars happier! I treat them as annuals and add new plants every year because the bees love it. I have found that the species is tolerant of drier soil. Your bee photos are stellar! Beeutiful! xxoogail

    Thanks Gail. The monarda struggles here as well, even planted in the best soil we have to offer. I keep buying more, it is worth it!
    xxxooo
    Frances

  8. Leslie says:

    I am tempted to redo some spot so I can add monarda…just not sure what that spot would bee!

    Hi Leslie, bee sure to give it lots of water!
    Frances

  9. Great historical background on this wonderful perennial. Without monarda, my garden would be rather dull! It’s about the only “mass planting with pennies” that I can grow. I find ‘Raspberry Wine’ and ‘Blue Stocking’ to be tolerant of drought here. I have pieces that have ended up with asclepias tuberosa and sage that I never water and they look as good as the ones in moist areas. My ‘Raspberry’ and ‘Blue S’ are starting to rebloom now after deadheading. ‘Jacob Cline’ is more picky for me. Must have moist and afternoon shade.

    Thanks for adding to the conversation here, Freda. Raspberry Wine is my favorite here. I love the color and it seems more vigorous than the others, taller too. I don’t get the rebloom after deadheading, but they will sometimes make new flowers without deadheading if we get fall rains. Fingers crosses for that!
    Frances

  10. commonweeder says:

    I only have two bee balms, a scarlet and crimson. It is interesting to see the difference in size depending on where they are growing. It certainly does say something about my soil – here and there. No matter, the bees are buzzing everywhere.

    Hi Pat, I am interested…how large are your Monardas? Much bigger than the ones here, I’ll wager, after seeing them in Buffalo. We are lucky to be able to grow them at all.
    Frances

  11. Karina says:

    Great captures as usual! I love how you snapped the picture as the bee is resting on the Monarda. I’m delighted to grow this, my favorite color and it’s so beautiful. One thing that I’m scared of are bees though.

    Thanks Karina. I am glad to hear you also grow Monarda, such a wonderful all around garden plant. Bees are our friends, but I understand some people fear them. I do not fear them, even having been stung many times, it was always my own fault.
    Frances

    The funny thing is that I haven’t been stung before and yet I fear them. Hopefully being around them more will help me eliminate this fear. It’s nice to hear that you don’t fear bees, even after being stung many times. I don’t grow Monarda yet, but would love to fairly soon!

  12. Karina says:

    Frances, I was wondering if I can reach you via email? I tried to find your contact information, but there was nothing listed.

    Karina, I can be reached by leaving a comment on any post. I wish to keep my email address private. I am sure you understand.

    • Karina says:

      Yes I do understand where you are coming from and truly respect your privacy. Thanks for letting me know. I just wanted to let you know how much I love reading your blog and how great your blog is! Also, I just recently finished a marketing meeting and had walked them through your blog. They feel the same way and wanted me to pass the message to you that your blog is not too search engine optimization (SEO) friendly. I’d love to help you with this and to help lure in more readers for you. Please feel free to let me know what you think and if this is something that sounds of interest to you.

      Thanks, Karina. I am glad you like the blog, but am not interested in writing using SEO. It is not my style or intent, sorry.
      Frances

      Not a problem at all Frances, there is no need for you to apologize. It was something that I might have been able to offer you. Thank you for letting me know and I do understand where you are coming from.

  13. Kathleen says:

    I’ve added more Monarda to my garden this year Frances. Not only for the bees but also for the hummingbirds. They really favor it as well and I love to draw them into the garden just as much. Your shots are spectacular.

    Hi Kathleen, thanks for visiting, so nice to see you here. The hummers do love the monarda, and many other flowers that might surprise some people. I saw one feeding on the tiniest, most insignificant blooms of a Heuchera.
    Frances

  14. Lola says:

    Great pics as always. I have the ‘Jacob Kline” but it hasn’t bloomed since I’ve had it. It’s in a pot so maybe I need to put it in the ground. I have a place on the East side of my house which gets mostly morning/mid-day sun. Do you think that would be a good place? As you know it gets mighty hot during the afternoon down here with that afternoon sun.

    Thanks Lola. I would think morning sun would be best for your area to grow the Monarda.
    Frances

  15. I was able to add one Monarda last week, the locally grown market had some. I got one of the Fuchsia colored ones…new to me and loving it! I have given it plenty of room to spread out. Next year I will see about getting more. ….Jacob Kline is one I will keep my eyes peeled for. Great photos! I think Monarda blooms look like Court Jester hats. 🙂

    Hi Janet, thanks for visiting. Lucky you in finding a Monarda plant locally. I think they might be difficult to keep in pots since they want their roots to run. The blooms do like jester hats!
    Frances

  16. Karina says:

    Frances, I understand that you have no interest in SEO and I really do enjoy your blog. I’d love to extend the opportunity for you to make money through cost per click (cpc) or pay per click (ppc) by having a relevant gardening link on your site. Please feel free to let me know what your thoughts are on this and if this is something that sounds of interest to you. Thanks!

    Karina, you have certainly spent a lot of time on my blog and leaving comments. But I am not interested in ads and will be removing your link. This seems to be spam, trying to dress itself up as actual interaction. There will be deleting done of the whole thing, soon.

    • Karina says:

      If you do have second thoughts, feel free to contact me. In the meantime, I will still keep commenting on your blog for any good gardening advice. Hope that is okay with you because I surely do love reading your blog.

  17. Barbarapc says:

    Mr. Bumble was very polite considering he was awoken. Looks much better than I do after a sleep. My raspberry wine has just started to bloom – I divided it last year and it just hasn’t returned to its beefy vigour – but the colour, the form of the flowers, and in my garden, the mildew resistance make it worth waiting for.

    Hi Barbara, thanks for visiting, nice to see you here. Raspberry Wine is my favorite, too. There is no dividing, but the runners are sometimes replanted elsewhere. It takes some time for them to gather up steam, again, though.
    Frances

  18. Lilith says:

    I absolutely love this blog…the picures and the great detail given on Monarda..Gosh have never seen it here in Australia..i will be trying to get hold of some that’s for sure. I am favoriting your blog immediately!

    I just re read your blog, and now realise Monarda is Bergamot…hmm, we can get it here occasionally, but it’s quite a small shrub…thanks for reminding me about this lovely plant,

    WArm wishes,
    Jan

    Hi Jan, thanks so much for stopping by and those kind words. Monarda is an herbaceous perennial, native to North America, but can be grown in the right conditions all over the world. Good luck with it.
    Frances

  19. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I just love monarda. It grows in some very dry conditions under a maple tree in my garden. It hasn’t disappointed me yet. It even attracts bees there in the semi-shade.

    Hi Lisa, that is great that you are having success with the Monarda. Your soil must be just right for it.
    Frances

  20. Rose says:

    Gorgeous photos of the bees, Frances! I agree that Monarda is one of those must-have plants in the garden, especially if you want to attract more pollinators. It’s pretty tough, too–one stand of mine is towering above the asters and obedient plants trying to take over the butterfly garden.

    Thanks Rose. Your Monarda sounds wonderful. Anything that can fight off the asters is one strong cookie. They don’t grow that vigorously here, not enough wet, but we are happy to have them for the bees and friends.
    Frances

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