Monarda is the genus name for approximately 23 species found in varying locations through the central and eastern states in the USA predominately. Discovery of fistulosa species is attributed to John Tradescant the Younger and didyma species to John Bartram of Pennsylvania. They were named after a Spanish physician, Nicolás Bautista Monardes, who was sent plants by the Spanish Conquistadors to study for their potential medicinal qualities.
These beautiful plants are members of the Lamiaceae family, meaning 'landing platform' as each flower has two lips.
The inflorescence or flower head is made up of multiple flowers with a deep nectary and have developed to be pollinated by Hummingbirds and long tongued pollinators. In the right conditions, Monarda will spread out from rhizomatic roots and will be long lived, particularly the didyma cultivars. Some cultivars however, will die after their second year of flowering so it is advisable to take divisions to ensure continuity.
Ideal Planting Conditions
All Monarda need rich soil, as they are hungry plants, which has to be improved every year.
Red flowered and some pink Monarda have been developed from wild didyma species and prefer moist conditions. They are ideal for planting in boggy conditions, where they will spread out happily from their rhizomatous roots, along the surface of the soil.
Violet, purple, and pink Monarda are generally fistulosa species and these plants love moisture in summer but dislike winter wet. If the cultivars become dry at the roots in summer they will develop powdery mildew from stress. In winter, fistulosas grow naturally in regions with high snow fall which protects them from winter wet, but the spring thaw floods the roots to promote new growth. They have adapted to windy conditions by forming adventitious roots along the length of the stem which can root if the stem is blown down.
A further grouping are the cultivars crossed with bradburiana, a species found in the southern USA states and can tolerate drought and poor soil.
A few cultivars have incorporated menthifolia as a cross; these are very beautiful, but may be short lived so it is essential to take divisions.
And the final group are Monarda grown from seed annually. These tend to be citriodora crosses.
Monarda are menthol rich and act as a natural antiseptic for staphylococcal infections. Leaves infused as a drink soothe a sore throat. A balm made from their leaves relieves bee stings almost immediately, hence the synonym 'Bee Balm'. The Huron Native American peoples informed us they use a balm to cure their teenagers acne. There are many more health properties which can be found on the Web.
This is a naturally occurring fungus which attacks Monarda when they are stressed. We find providing them with a rich feed and a regular watering regime in dry periods really helps. As we are pesticide free, we make our own nettle tea each year and spray the leaves with this - it acts as a conditioner for leaves and the formic acid kills white fly, important in our potted plant areas.
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Why we chose Monarda for our National Collection
When we came to Glyn Bach, in February 2012, we set out our key aims for our garden. It was important to us to encourage pollinators and Monarda were a natural choice due to the maritime climate in Pembrokeshire. The garden has a very varied terrain and we were able to use a large bog garden for didyma cultivars and a large hillside was ideal for fistulosa and bradburiana species.
We planted so many cultivars and as we are heavily into conservation, a National Collection seemed the next natural step; we were awarded Collection status in September 2014. Since then our collection has continued to grow and we now have 2 polytunnels for winter cover and 2 shade tunnels for summer cover for our many potted cultivars.
We were lucky to inherit an area of raised beds which are perfect for showcasing the Collection and we dug out a long border to fill almost entirely with Monarda cultivars which is a sight to behold in August each year. Monarda on the hillside are planted in colour themed borders with grasses, hemerocallis, dahlias, roses etc. to provide a rich canopy of colour.
International Registrar for Monarda
Our interest in Monarda has grown considerably as we have studied these amazing plants. In December 2019, we took on the role of International Registrar, simply because there was a void. This role has tied in with research we are currently undertaking to look at the formations of the inflorescence, which is a good indicator of parentage and a key indicator of conditions required for strong healthy growth.