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Monarda Didyma (mo-NAR-da, DID-ee-muh) is an herbaceous perennial plant from the family Lamiaceae, commonly known as the sage, deadnettle, or mint family.
It is a native plant of eastern North America and Canada, where it is found from Quebec to Maine in the south to Minnesota and Ontario in the west.
It is also found in northern Georgia, Missouri, Washington, and Oregon.
Monarda Didyma has also been naturalized in some western areas of the United States as well as in parts of Asia and Europe.
Named after Nicolas Monardes, the 16th-century Spanish physician and botanist who explained the first American flora, the plant is often confused with Bergamot Orange due to its fragrance.
The aroma and colorful flowers have also earned Monarda Didyma along with other species several common names, which include:
- Scarlet beebalm
- Scarlet monarda
- Crimson beebalm
- Oswego tea
- Red bergamot
- Wild Bergamot
Monarda Didyma Care
Size & Growth
Bearing long and dark green leaves on branched hairy stems, the aromatic North American native grows up to 2’ to 5’ feet in height and displays a clump-forming growth habit.
Like most members of the Lamiaceae family, Monarda plant also features square stems upon which ovate to lanceolate leaves are oppositely arranged.
The leaves grow up to 3” to 6” inches and feature coarsely toothed margins and reddish to brown leaf veins.
They are also glabrous or very lightly hairy from above and are covered with spreading short and soft hair from below.
Within its native habitat, the plant is mainly seen growing in dense clusters alongside thickets, ditches, and stream banks.
Flowering and Fragrance
As the name suggests, crimson beebalm produces small red tubular flowers in dense terminal cluster flower heads.
Supported by leafy bracts, the flowers are narrow and two-lipped.
The upper lip continues the corolla tube whereas the lower lip is slightly bent downwards.
They also feature two long stamens.
The bloom time lasts from mid to late summer to fall – June to September.
Light & Temperature
Crimson beebalm grows best in full sun, but also tolerates partial shade without any problem.
The plant, in fact, appreciates some afternoon shade during very hot summer days.
The Didyma plant is also not highly winter hardy and may die in extremely cold weather. However, in most cases, it regrows in the spring season.
The bergamot plant is hardy to USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9.
Watering and Feeding
While the Didyma plant is drought tolerant, it grows best in adequately moist soil. It is recommended to not let the soil remain dry for prolonged periods of time. Watering using a soaker hose makes keeping the soil moist easy.
Check out our article on soaker hoses and their use here.
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Feed the newly planted crimson bee balms with an all-purpose fertilizer, in the spring season.
Soil & Transplanting
This monarda species performs best in moist rich loamy soil containing a high percentage of organic matter.
It also appreciates a soil pH within 6.0 to 7.0.
However, it can tolerate a wide range of soil types, including wet soils, as long as they are well-draining.
The clumps of red bergamot generally need to be divided every two to three years, in early spring, to avoid overcrowding.
Grooming and Maintenance
While monarda Didyma is a low-maintenance plant, care and maintenance results in better growth and health.
For example, thinning stems at the beginning of spring help reduce the chances of powdery mildew.
Also, pruning of stems affected by mildew also helps to keep the plant healthy.
Deadheading the flowers are known to prolong the blooming period.
How To Propagate Scarlet Bee Balm
The red bergamot spreads itself through self-seeding and creeping rhizomes, but will grow from seeds or propagated by clump division or stem cuttings.
To grow from seeds:
- Sow the ripened seeds in early spring.
- Place them in full sun or part shade and keep the soil adequately moist.
- Reduce the watering once the seedlings start to emerge and only water when the top surface of the soil is dried.
- Let the seedlings grow for about 2 to 3 weeks and then feed with a starter fertilizer.
For propagation through stem cuttings:
- Take about 6” inch long cuttings from the new growth, in the spring.
- Plant the cuttings in a pot filled with peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, or a blend of any of these.
- Water the cuttings well and then cover them with a plastic bag to help retain moisture.
- Remove the plastic bag once the cuttings have developed roots and transplant them into individual pots or ground.
To propagate from clump division, simply divide a thick clump in early spring.
Scarlet Beebalm Pest or Diseases
The most common problem crimson beebalm plants encounter is the powdery mildew.
The disease is often caused due to poor air circulation, which happens because of less soil moisture and thick foliage. Learn more about Powdery Mildew and its control here.
Red bergamot is highly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies due to its bright bloom color.
It also attracts bees, bumblebees, moths and a number of other pollinators.
The plant also serves as the larval host for the orange mint moth, raspberry Pyrausta, and hermit sphinx.
The Didyma plant, however, is moderately deer resistant.
Monarda Didyma Uses
Although the red bergamot plant is now mainly grown for ornamental purposes because of its red flowers and fragrant foliage, the plant has a long history of medicinal uses.
Many Native American tribes used the plant for treating wounds and infections due to its strong antiseptic properties.
The Native Americans who lived in Oswego, New York, used to make an herbal tea using the leaves of scarlet beebalm, which is why one of its common names is Oswego tea.
The common name beebalm is in reference to the use of plant resins for soothing bee stings, during earlier times.
However, in modern times, the plant is extensively cultivated, worldwide, mainly for ornamental purposes and is a popular choice for wildlife gardens, flower gardens, and butterfly gardens.
The beautiful flowers are also used in floral arrangements and as cut flowers.
Several variants of Monarda Didyma plant are also available and are also cultivated for their different flower colors.
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