Saturday, August 25, 2012

When is a Bergamot a Beebalm?

Species name: Mondarda didyma

Common name: Beebalm, Oswego tea

Location: Ontario

This species of Monarda is native to eastern North America, and has an over-lapping range with its closest relative, Monarda media (purple bergamot). Like its sister species, beebalm grows in habitats that are decreasing in frequency across North America. The status of the species is still good in its native range, but there is the threat of population decline in the coming years if something isn't done about habitat protection.

Beebalm, like its name suggests, is a great plant for attracting bees in the garden. Since the flowers are bright red (this plant is also referred to by the common name "scarlet bergamot"), they also serve to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Hummingbirds especially love this plant since the flowers are shaped like their long beaks so they are some of the only animals that can reach the nectaries at the bottom of the flowers.

Like purple bergamot, the beebalm plant is of great importance in traditional Native North American medicine. In some areas, this caused the plant to be hunted to near extinction and the population has never been able to rebound. Thankfully, this plant has also taken off as a popular ornamental plant, especially in butterfly and hummingbird gardens, so the genetic diversity is being well preserved. Should a widespread recolonization effort be attempted, there are many sources of genetic material from which to obtain seeds.