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.
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.
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.
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.