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2021 - Year of the Monarda
by NGB
March 28, 2021

Exciting New Breeding for Monarda Monarda (commonly called Bee Balm) is a genus that has a long history of being used as a medicinal herb. As the common name Bee Balm implies, it has also been used to soothe bee stings.

Monarda is a member of the mint family and consists of multiple species, most of which are hardy perennials and all of which are native to certain regions of North America. Summertime flowering on all these species is quite attractive to humans and pollinators.

Monarda Species:

Monarda punctata, aka Horsemint or Dotted Mint, is somewhat of an unruly native prairie plant characterized by tall unbranched stems topped with rounded clusters of pink or lavender tubular flowers. The stacked combination of speckled flowers and colorful bracts make this distinctive and unusual.

Monarda fistulosa, or wild Bergamot, is one of the species commonly used for medicinal purposes. Being highly aromatic with showy lavender-pink flowers, it is also used as a honey plant.

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Bee Balm) has long been cherished for not only its use for tea but also its ornamental value. The bright scarlet/red flowers of M. didyma are still a part of many ongoing breeding programs with Monarda.

It has been a long road from these native species of Monarda to the prized ornamental cultivars available today. Some of the first hybrids of M. didyma x M. fistulosa produced vibrant flower colors with a more well-behaved plant, but they continued to be plagued by their native attributes of being highly susceptible to mildew, somewhat tall and leggy and had a tendency to spread by rhizomes.

New Varieties:

Modern breeding has introduced many new cultivars that are much more suitable in the ornamental landscape.

Along with many stand-alone varieties with notable attributes of their own:

‘Marshall’s Delight’ – Received Award of Merit from Royal Horticultural Society

‘Gardenview Scarlet’ – Selected by the Chicago Botanic Garden as an outstanding perennial for the Midwest.

‘Petite Delight’ – The first of its kind dwarf introduction of monarda at just 12-15 in. tall.

There are several newer Monarda with formidable attributes:

Monarda didyma Grand™ is from the Morden Breeding Program in Manitoba and an exceptionally hardy Monarda.

Characterized by a profusion of bright flowers atop mid-sized plants, these also offer very good mildew resistance.

The Sugar Buzz Monardas form a solid dome of color. The 2- to 2 ½-in. flowers top off the strong stems and deep green foliage of this series.

Medium in height at around 20 in., the eight colors in this series display above-average mildew resistance and stay well contained in the garden.

Balmy™ Monardas have relatively large flowers on a fully compact plant.

Balmy comes in at just 10-12 in. with exceptional mildew resistance and deep green foliage. They are dwarf and mounded, so bring new uses to the landscape.

https://ngb.org/year-of-the-monarda/

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