Friday, June 18, 2010

Monarda: A Bit of the Unusual in the Garden

Ten years ago, I eagerly awaited each new bloom as the first summer in my new garden progressed. In mid-June, a patch of red flowers begin to open along the back fence. My horticultural knowledge at that point was somewhat limited, and I'd never seen nor heard of the plant that I'd soon learn was Monarda didyma (Bee Balm).

As the flowers emerged, I was struck by their unusual, almost alien- or insect-like appearance. The Monarda flower head is actually a collection of tubular flowers that are a favorite of pollinator hummingbirds and moths.


While I was intrigued by the plant itself, I wasn't completely sold on Monarda until one evening in the garden when a hummingbird moth (Hyla lineata) suddenly began darting among the blooms. Not only was this one of the more unusual flowers I'd ever seen, it was a favorite source of nectar for an insect just as unique to my Midwestern garden. Through a little reasearch I learned that Hyla lineata larvae enjoy feeding on evening primrose (Oenothera), a plant that grew at the base of the Monarda patch in the garden.

Hoping to attract more of these beautiful insects, I've encouraged the patch of Monarda to grow and even divided a clump or two into other areas of the garden. While I've never seen another hummingbird moth, I've grown to love the red blooms for their unusual beauty alone.

This spring, while browsing at a local plant sale, I found a single pot of Monarda didyma 'Marshall's Delight', whose tag noted that it was a purple Monarda. I'd seen native blue-purple Monarda in woodland areas, but not available in garden centers, so I bought the pot for $3.

This week 'Marshall's Delight' has begun to bloom, and it's most certainly not a purple Monarda, but it hasn't disappointed. From initial emergence to full bloom, it's simply the most beautiful Monarda I've laid eyes on.






It appears that I may get 5-6 blooms this first year of 'Marshall's Delight' in my garden, but I hope it's as strong a spreader as the variety of Monarda that came with the house. Its bold, architectural form and iridescent blooms have quickly become a favorite for my eyes and camera lens to behold.

And I'm no expert on Hyla lineata, but I'm hoping that by planting more Monarda, perhaps I'll get another visit from the beautiful hummingbird moth that graced my garden a decade ago.

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