Beachside Beebalm

A crazy thing happened on the way to the wedding last week.  Well, not really “on the way,” but I couldn’t resist using a funny line.  It actually happened the day before the wedding when the bride and groom and several family members walked to the beach to see where the ceremony might take place.

So, what happened?  In several locations between beach houses, I spied an unknown herbaceous plant, about 30-inches tall with pinky-purple tips, that was literally humming with bees and other insects.  With more important things at hand, I stayed focused on the moment but made a mental note to scrutinize and photograph the plant later.

Monarda punctata commonly know as spotted horsemint.

Monarda punctata commonly know as spotted horsemint.

Now that you’ve seen the mystery plant, I hope you’re not laughing at my expense. I have the uncomfortable notion, especially after examining the USDA plant profile showing the extensive range of our native Monarda punctata, that I might be the last gardener in the Carolinas to know this mint, commonly called spotted horsemint or spotted beebalm.

Hmm.....beebalm or phlomis?

Hmm…..beebalm or phlomis?

Even worse, after seeing the plant up close, I admit I still couldn’t figure out what it was. At first I believed it was a beebalm, but when I couldn’t find a similar beebalm on the internet, I thought perhaps a phlomis (because of the number of flower whorls). Clearly, I was lost without my plant reference books. Finally, I had the good sense to email Terry, my “go to” friend for plant ID, and she immediately provided the name.

Many areas near the beach, from sun to part shade, were packed with hundreds of these plants, so the native obviously thrives in sandy soil and dry heat, and self-seeds freely. Interestingly, its pale yellow flowers are rather inconspicuous, but each flower head rests upon a showy circle of leafy bracts in an eye-catching shade of pink to lavender. The lance-shaped foliage smells amazingly like oregano, and I’ve since read it can be used as a substitute.

Bumble bee coated in pollen.

Bumble bee coated in pollen.

Most amazing of all, however, was the number and variety of insects visiting the flowers. Reliable sources say the plant also attracts butterflies, though I don’t recall seeing any.

As an interesting side note…..we had planned on a florist’s bouquet for the bride, but when the time of the wedding was moved from early evening to daybreak (because of the extreme heat), we realized the flowers wouldn’t arrive in time, so I offered to pinch-hit. Then, I had a fleeting thought of adding some of the “pink blooms” seen at roadside to a home-made bouquet before my brain leaped to “bees at wedding = not good.” You’ll be glad to know, I’m sure, that sanity prevailed and the flowers rustled up at a local grocery store worked out just fine.

Our "little miss" holding the bouquet for the bride.

Our “little miss,” happily holding the bouquet for the bride.




26 thoughts on “Beachside Beebalm

  1. Chloris

    Beautiful and to think that it grows wild round you, it looks very garden- worthy.
    What a little cutie you have there, with such a lovely smile.

  2. pbmgarden

    I didn’t know this plant Marian. What a fun story. Your bouquet for the bride is gorgeous and what a treat that you had the opportunity to make it. Lovely child–happy times.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Susie–Oh, I’m glad I wasn’t the only person in the dark about this great plant. Making the bouquet was fun, and I had help from my daughter-in-law (mother of our “little miss”), which was especially nice.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Eliza–A very long time ago, I thought about being a florist, but my interest in flowers turned toward gardening and I’m glad it did. I like arranging, but I’m partial to plants with roots!

      1. Eliza Waters

        You made a smart choice. Florists are on their feet all day, holidays are manic/stressful and they’re constantly exposed to pesticides that aren’t regulated, so can be used up to day of harvest. I know a lot of women in the industry who had miscarriages, stillbirths and of the children who survived, many had health/learning issues. Not good and no one ever talks about it. 😦 Sadly, the conditions are worse in Colombia, where most of the flowers are now grown.

  3. Martha Strain

    Precious child! Lovely bouquet! Great info on the bee balm–I did not know it. I just hope I’ll remember it if I see it sometime! 😉


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