PLANT PROFILE:
Wild Bergamot

wild bergamot monarda fistulosa wisconsin native perennial flower ftimg

Wild Bergamot

Monarda fistulosa

Description & Overview

Wild Bergamot is an iconic Wisconsin native perennial is commonly seen in dry prairies, meadows, and wood edges. Soft lavender-pink flowers show up in late June through August (sometimes as late as September), which offers a midsummer food source for a variety of pollinators. Dried seed heads are ornamental and can be used in flower arrangements. Increase the biodiversity in your pollinator garden with this Wisconsin native! May also be known as Wild Beebalm.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 3-4 feet
Mature Spread: 3-4 feet
Growth Rate: Fast
Growth Form: Perennial, spreading via rhizomes
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Extremely adaptive, performs well in all but wet soils
Flower: Round cluster of lavender to purple-pink tubular flowers. Approximately 20 to 50 flowers make up a flower cluster
Bloom Period: Late July through September
Foliage: Gray-green, 2-3 feet long, fragrant, lanceolate, and coarsely toothed. Pubescent on the underside.
Fall Color: N/A
Fruit Notes: 1mm long seeds develop in the calyxes that are left when the flower bloom drops. Seed head turns brown as seed matures around late Sept. and Oct.

Suggested Uses:

Herbal tincture: the fragrant leaves make an excellent tea that’s said to help ailments during the cold and flu season. The flowers are also edible!

Restoration plantings: Wild bergamot is a familiar component to prairies and meadows throughout much of the Midwest. Its adaptability allows for new restoration plantings to establish relatively quickly. Remember to not overcrowd new plantings as this will allow for air circulation.

Pollinator gardens: This forb is a welcoming sight for many pollinators (see below for specifics). The plants’ height can add visual texture; try planting directly in the middle or against the edge of your garden. This plant will provide a good nectar and pollen source during mid-summer.

Not for small urban lots unless confined to a smaller area – spread via rhizomes and should not be planted where road salt is used.

Wild bergamot is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

wild bergamot monarda fistulosa wisconsin natives for bees and pollinators purple lavendar flower in bloom

Wildlife Value:

Wild bergamot is a larval host plant for the Hermit Sphinx moth (Lintneria eremitus), Orange Mint moth (Pyrausta orphisalis), and Raspberry Pyrausta (Pyrausta signatalis). The Orange mint moth overwinter as a prepupa in plant debris – leave the leaves in fall!

Clearwing hummingbird moths, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Fritillaries, and a variety of other insects seek Wild Bergamot out as a food source. There are specialized bees that feed only on Bee balms (Monarda spp.) these include: Dufourea monardae and Perdita gerhardi.

Highly deer resistant – the fragrant leaves and flowers are left alone by both deer and squirrels.

Maintenance Tips:

Ensuring good drainage and air circulation are going to help prevent powdery mildew. Dividing clumps every two to three years will help contain this native, and improve air circulation and plant vigor – dividing can be done in March or April before they push new growth.

Under drought conditions, the plant is known to have the lower leaves turn yellow and drop off the stem. This is normal and to be expected. Supplemental watering can help ease the plants’ stress.

Deadheading flowers can prolong summer blooming. In fact, after the blooms fade, the plants can be cut down to the ground in mid-summer to remove older foliage and encourage fresh, new growth.

As a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), and spreading via rhizomes, this plant has been known to expand its territory with vigor.

wild bergamot monarda fistulosa at johnson's nursery in bloom and in seed

Pests/Problems:

Powdery mildew is often inevitable with Wild bergamot – good drainage and air circulation helps prevent this. Reducing overhead watering and routine thinning of crowded plants in the area can also help.

Leaf Lore:

Wild bergamot has been historically present in dry fields, drier prairies, thickets, pastures, and wood edges.

Wild Bergamot was widely used by Native Americans for medicinal and culinary purposes. The Ho-Chunk, Menominee, and Ojibwe used the plant medicinally to treat colds, as a carminative (think anti-gas). The Blackfoot knew of the plant’s antiseptic properties and used poultices of the leaves for topical infections and wounds. Tea from the leaves and blossoms alleviated cold symptoms and settled upset stomachs. Boiled leaves, wrapped in a soft cloth, was a remedy for sore eyes.

Monarda is name after the Spanish physician and botanist Nicholas Monardes. Fistulosa means ‘tubular’ or ‘hollow’, referencing the flower shape. The common name ‘bee balm’ was given due to the plants’ resin being used to soothe bee stings.

Its notable citrusy-mint fragrance is similar to that of bergamot oranges. Europeans settling in America discovered that Monarda fistulosa tea tastes similar to the European favorite, Earl Gray tea. Bergamot is also a variety of orange (Citrus bergamia) grown in Italy and France, the oil of which is added to black tea leaves to give Earl Gray tea its distinct flavor. The Earl Gray tea blend was named after Charles Gray, British Prime Minister in the 1830s, who helped pass reforms to abolish slavery in Great Britain. To drink Earl Gray tea is considered very posh, and part of traditional afternoon tea service.

Companion Plants:

Color complements: Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), Cup Plant/Compass Plant/Prairie Dock (Silphium spp.), Wild Sennna (Cassia hebecarpa), Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Similar site conditions: Leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea), White Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucantha), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).


wild bergamot monarda fistulosa wisconsin native perennial flowers for pollinators benchcard

WILD BERGAMOT BENCHCARD