Monarda is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. The genus is endemic to North America. Common names include bee balm, horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot, the latter inspired by the fragrance of the leaves, which is reminiscent of bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia).
The genus was named for the Spanish botanist Nicolás Monardes, who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants of the New World. These hardy plants are easily grown and are ideally suited to cottage gardens or for border plantings, producing their colourful blooms over a long period. The aromatic leaves and nectar-rich flowers will ensure that bees and birds will be constant visitors to the garden.
Monarda form large clumps, with the perennials dying away completely in winter but recovering quickly in spring to form thickets of angled stems with lance-shaped aromatic leaves that are often red-tinted and hairy, with serrated edges. In early summer the top of each stem carries several whorls of tubular flowers backed by leafy bracts. The flowers are usually red, pink, or purple.
Monarda species are very hardy and easily grown in any open sunny position with moist well-drained soil. Mildew is often a problem in late summer, so good ventilation is important. Some species can quickly take over and their growth should be monitored and controlled. Propagation is by division when dormant or from basal cuttings.
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