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Monarda didyma

Common Name(s):
Bee balm, Bee-balm, Crimson bee-balm
Edible Plants, Herbs, Native Plants, Perennials, Wildflowers

Monarda didyma, known by a number of different common names including bee balm, Oswego tea, and bergamot, is native to eastern North America where it typically occurs in bottomlands, thickets, moist woods and along streambanks from Maine to Minnesota south to Missouri and Georgia.  

The common name of bee balm is in reference to a former use of plant resins to soothe bee stings. The common name of Oswego tea is in reference to a former use of plants leaves for tea by the Oswego Indians of New York State. The toothed, aromatic leaves (3-5” long) are still used today for teas and in salads. The common name of wild bergamot is in reference to the purported similarity of the aroma of plant flowers to the bergamot orange.

Bee-balm is native to the North Carolina mountains and may be seen along the Blue Ridge Parkway flowering in summer. 

Bee balm is a butterfly magnet for border fronts. It provides color and contrast for the perennial border, cottage garden, wild garden, native plant garden, meadow, herb garden, naturalized planting or along ponds or streams. Good plant for butterfly gardens and bird gardens.

Regions:  Mountain

Seasons of Interest: 

  Blooms:  Late summer            Nut/Fruit/Seed:  Fall

Wildlife Value: Attracts bees, butterflies, and Ruby-throated hummingbirds. Members of the genus Monarda support the following specialized bees: Dufourea monardaePerdita (Perdita) gerhardiand Protandrena abdominalisThis plant is resistant to damage by deer and rabbits.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: Plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in crowded gardens, but it is usually in the late season after flowering.  Prune stems to increase air flow.  Severe cases may require fungicidal sprays. In addition, if the soil is allowed to dry out, the stressed plants become increasingly susceptible to disease. Rust can also be a problem.

Summer to early fall
Sun, partial shade
2-5 ft.
12 to 15 in.
Flower Color:
Red, rose, pink, violet, white
USDA Hardiness Zone 4-9
Bee balm features 2-4’ tall square stems clad with opposite, ovate to ovate-lanceolate, medium to deep green leaves (3-6” long) with serrate margins. The leaves emit a minty fragrance when bruised or crushed.
Bee balm is a somewhat coarse, clump-forming, mint family member that features tubular, two-lipped, bright scarlet-red flowers crowded into dense, globular, terminal flowerheads (to 3-4” across) somewhat resembling unkempt mop-heads. The flowers are in a compact rounded head, usually single and terminal. Each flowerhead is subtended by a whorl of showy, red-tinged, leafy bracts. Long summer bloom extends for about 8 weeks from early/mid-summer to late summer. Plant foliage declines after bloom, particularly if infected with mildew.
Herbaceous perennial
Bee balm is best grown in rich, medium to wet, moisture-retentive soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers rich, humusy soils in full sun, although some afternoon shade is appreciated in hot summer climates. Soil should not be allowed to dry out. Deadhead flowers to prolong summer bloom. Divide clumps every 3-4 years to prevent overcrowding and to control the spread of the plant. Provide plants with good air circulation to help combat fungal leaf diseases. Deadhead flowers immediately after bloom to prevent self-seeding. Spreads by rhizomes and self-seeding to form colonies. It tolerates wet and clay soil as well as being planted near black walnut trees.
Division in spring, cuttings, seed
full sun to partial shade
moist soil
Mountains, Piedmont, Coastal Plain
Eastern North America, North Carolina
Teas, flavor jellies, soups, stews, and fruit salads; edible flowers.
Life Cycle:
black walnut, wet sites, bees, purple, nectar, fragrant, hummingbirds, red, fall, white, deer resistant, showy, pink, sun, rabbits, perennial, butterflies, pollinators, clay soil, cpp, herb, wildflower, specialized bees, partial shade, wet, summer, wet soil

NCCES plant id: 409

Monarda didyma Tubular flowers are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.
John Bandauer, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0
Monarda didyma Monarda didyma
Kerry Woods, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0
Monarda didyma Monarda didyma
SwamprOse, CC BY-ND-2.0
Monarda didyma Monarda didyma
Patrick Standish, CC BY - 2.0
Monarda didyma Opposite leaves
Bill Barder, CC BY-NC-2.0