(Monarda didyma l)
aka: scarlet beebalm, oswego tea, or red bergamot
A favorite perennial native to North America, bee balm (also called wild bergamot) is beloved in flower beds for its beautiful blooms of red, pink, purple or white—not to mention the fragrant foliage. This species is native to the eastern half of North America, generally from Maine to Minnesota, southward to northern Louisiana, and eastward to the Carolinas.
Red Bee Balm is striking, with rich red, fluted spider-like flowers. This native perennial brings long-lasting color from late spring thru late summer.
Red bee balm prefers full sun and loamy, sandy, or clay soil. It can grow to a height of 3 – 4 feet tall and a diameter of 4 – 5 feet. It needs medium moisture. It does best in Zones 4 5, 6, and 7. In other words, it loves Chattanooga. Red bee balm does best in a rich soil with a good organic matter content to provide moisture during the heat of summer. The best propagation technique is by dividing the soil and roots in early spring before the plant has flushed out with its leaves.
All photos via iNaturalist, CC-by-NC. Click photo for details and license.
Red bee balm is perfect for planting in the back of a wildflower garden in order to compliment smaller flowers in the front. It will attract many native animal species – see below.
This species will attract not only butterflies and hummingbirds but also several species of bees, especially honey bees.
If the flowers are left on the plant into the autumn, they will attract many small song bird species harvesting its seeds for food.
Since red bee balm is a member of the mint family (you can tell this very easily by noting that the cross section of the stem is square) it produces a fragrant oil which, along with the bright flowers, adds to its appeal in the garden and in the home.
Bee balm needs good air circulation, otherwise it can develop mildew on its leaves.
Linnaeus named the genus Monarda in honor of the 16th century Spanish physician and botanist, Nicolas Bautista Monardes (1493-1588). Monardes never went to the Americas, but was able to study medicinal plants in Spain, which controlled navigation and commerce from the New World at the time.
Charlie Belin is a retired professor and biological oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia system for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.
Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!