Complete Guide To Bradbury’s Beebalm (Monarda bradburiana)


One of the shorter beebalms you can grow, Bradbury’s Beebalm is perfect for bringing late Spring to early Summer color to any formal flowerbed. As a highly adaptable flower, this makes it a great addition to the garden. This showiness of Bradbury’s Beebalm can bring in a variety of wildlife before the Summertime flowers begin blooming.

Although I’ve never met a member of the Monarda genus that I don’t like, I must say that I am quite taken with this species. It’s shorter stature and colorful foliage make it attractive year round, and perfect for residential garden beds. I started mine from seed a few years ago and feel I’ve gotten to know this plant well. I’ll share all that I’ve learned with you.

In this article:

What is Bradbury’s Beebalm

Bradbury’s Beebalm is a herbaceous perennial native to the central United States.  Scientifically known as Monarda bradburiana, it will it will grow 1-2’ tall in full sun and well drained soil.  Blooming lavender-pink flowers for one month in late Spring to early Summer, it attracts a varieties of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. [1][2][3][4]

I see a large number of bees visiting my plants, similar to Monarda fistulosa, and it does also attract butterflies and hummingbirds whom I’ve seen visit as well. It’s popularity with pollinators combined with it’s showiness make it an amazing addition to flowerbeds and gardens. It really should be grown more.

Bradbury’s Beebalm does spread via rhizomes. So, one must consider that when adding it to the garden. The clump will increase in size each year, and can be pruned in Spring to contain it. But it may be possible that volunteers can pop up a ways from this plant in a more crowded flower bed. This should be considered a regular Spring chore, as with all members of the mint family.

Due to it’s blooms, it is sometimes confused for other members of the Monarda genus. The flowers in particular look like ‘Wild Bergamot’, Monarda fistulosa. And it also is sometimes referenced as ‘wild bergamot’, which further adds to the confusion. But it could also be mistaken for white Beebalm, Monarda clinopodia. Nonetheless, Bradbury’s Beebalm is definitely it’s own species, as it was found to be the first species of Monarda to break away from the original Monarda species. [5]

Differentiating Bradbury’s Beebalm from Wild Bergamot

The primary way to differentiate Bradbury’s Beebalm (Monarda bradburiana) from Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is that Bradbury’s Beebalm is shorter, only 1-2′ tall while Wild Bergamot is usually 3-4′ tall. Also, Bradbury’s Beebalm is late Spring to early Summer bloomer, while Wild Bergamot will bloom in mid-Summer.

Native Range of Bradbury’s Beebalm

The primary native range of Bradbury’s Beebalm is the central United States from Kansas to Illinois, covering large areas of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Alabama. Several other isolated populations have been found to exist as shown on the map below.

The native range of Monarda bradburiana. Source [1]

It’s natural habitat is in open woods, dry slopes, glades, and shorter plant communities. This is logical, as it’s native range is essentially the Ozarks.[6]

Bradbury’s Beebalm Reference Table

Scientific NameMonarda bradburiana
Common Name(s)Bradbury’s Beebalm, Eastern Beebalm
Native Range, USDA ZoneCentral United States, USDA Hardiness zones 5-8
Bloom TimeSpring/Summer
Bloom Duration, ColorFour weeks, White to lavender
Height1-2′ tall (30-60 cm)
Spacing / Spread1-2′ (30-60 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil TypesSandy-loam to clay-loam
MoistureDry to medium-moist
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Sources [1][2][3][4]

What are the Benefits of Bradbury’s Beebalm

Beauty

There is just something about Monarda flowers….they are gorgeous.  Their floral structure resembles something out of a science fiction novel or tropical world as they are just so unique.  But they bring a bounty of color to your garden after Spring Ephemerals have finished blooming, but before the main summer workhorses have started.

A native with purple foliage

One of the more common features in modern residential garden beds is to have plants with off-colored, or unique colored foliage. There are not many native plants with this feature, as most are some shade of green. But in Spring, when first emerging and while blooming, Bradbury’s Bee Balm will have dark purple foliage.

Compact

All members of the Monarda genus are beautiful, but this one is compact!  Typically growing 1-2′ tall, it can fit almost anywhere.  Many people don’t want a 3’-4’ tall flower right next to a sidewalk, but this one is small enough to fit, look beautiful, but not be overwhelming. Truly a residential friendly wildflower

The earliest Beebalm

Of all Beebalms that are available commercially, this one is the first to bloom.  Because of it, in combination with all of the other members of the Monarda genus, I’m able to keep Beebalm in bloom from early May into October.

Pollinators

Bradbury’s Monarda will attract numerous pollinators including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  And it is a wide variety of bees and butterflies that it attract that bring in lots of wildlife interest.

Identification and Characteristics of Bradbury’s Beebalm

Lifecycle of Bradbury’s Beebalm

I created the below infographic to illustrate the lifecycle of Bradbury’s Beebalm. This shows all aspects of the plant, from seed to bloom.

Stalk

The stem of Bradbury’s Beebalm grows 1-2’ tall and is square in shape (or 4-angled).  It is color is reddish purple to green and has small hairs on it. [2]

An ant walking up the square hairy stalk of Bradbury’s Beebalm. Ants are effective pollinators too, as they love the nectar!

Leaf

Leaves are opposite (paired) along the stem.  Each set of leaves will be rotated 90 degrees from the previous.  They are usually around 3” long by 2” wide, and lanceolate to ovate in shape with serrated and ciliate margins[2][3]

The leaves upper surface changes from purple to green in color depending on the season.

Flower

Flowerheads will bloom at the end of the stems.  They are hemispherical in shape and 1-3” diameter.  The blooming starts in the center and works it’s way out radially to the outer edge.

A young flowerhead. Blooms begin in the center, and work their way outside as the flowerhead ages.

Individual flowers are roughly 1” long and 1/8” wide.  They are tubular with two lips.  The colors are white to pink, giving it a lavender hue, and they will also have purple spots. [2][3][4]

This flowerhead is older, as you can see there are no flowers left in the center.

Blooming lasts for about one month from mid-Spring to early Summer.  Approximately 1-2 months after flowering, seed heads will form where the flowers were.  They will be hollow tubes that contain seed.  These can be harvested similarly to other beebalms.

Saving seed from Bradbury’s Beebalm 

Once the seed head turns brown, simply cut the stalk below the seed heads and place into a brown paper bag.  Leave it in a cool/dry location for a few days to dry further, then place the seed heads into a coffee can or large plastic container with lid.  With a lid on, shake it vigorously for a minute to release seed.  Then, use a find kitchen strainer to remove chaff.  Seed can be stored for a couple years in a plastic bag or envelope.

Click here for a very detailed guide & video on saving seed from Beebalm.

Seed from Bradbury’s Beebalm

Root

The root system of Bradbury’s Beebalm consists of rhizome roots.  This plant will spread from it’s roots. [2]

Grow and Care for Bradbury’s Beebalm

Sunlight Requirements

Bradbury’s Beebalm can grow in full sun to partial shade.  Full sun will usually yield more blooms and taller plants.

Soil Requirements

For soil texture, Bradbury’s Beebalm will do well in silt or loamy soils.  I have several specimens growing in compacted sandy loam, and they seem to be doing fine.  It may not do as well in clay though. [3][4]

Soil pH

Bradbury’s Beebalm can grow in neutral to slightly acidic soil. One old study in Missouri found a population growing in limestone/open-woods with a pH of 5.89. [7]

Moisture Requirements

For moisture, Bradbury’s Beebalm will do well in dry to medium-moist conditions.  This plant is considered drought tolerant.  Although the lower leaves may turn yellow and fall off during droughts.

Maintenance

For maintenance, Bradbury’s Beebalm will need to be pruned at the roots each year to keep it in check.  Unwanted seedlings should be removed as well, as this plant will spread. 

You can contain certain rhizomatous plants by planting them inside a large pot lined with landscape fabric too. While this will reduce their spread, it doesn’t always stop them from spreading. Some species have defeated this method for me (Obedient Plant, Red Beebalm).

Fertilizer

Bradbury’s Beebalm should not receive supplemental fertilizer.  It is not necessary.

How to Grow Bradbury’s Beebalm from Seed

To grow Bradbury’s Beebalm from seed, it will need around sixty days cold stratification & exposure to sunlight to break dormancy and germinate.  So, Bradbury’s Beebalm seeds should be planted on the surface of the soil.

In order to achieve the cold stratification of this seed, you should either cold stratify the seeds in the refrigerator, or Winter Sow the seeds. I have detailed guides on both cold stratifying in the fridge and Winter Sowing seeds. Based on the size of these seeds, Winter Sowing would be my preferred option. But cold stratifying in the fridge could be done as well.

Before you get started though, you should try to determine how many plants you want, and gather up that exact number of containers.  That way you can thin seedlings rather than having to separate them, which is more work. (If you need to separate seedlings, we have a detailed guide how to separate seedlings here)

  1. Fill a containers with moist potting soil.  Tamp it firm. It should be moist enough that when you squeeze a handful, a few drops of water fall out.
  2. Sprinkle 5-10 Bradbury’s Beebalm seeds on top of the soil.  Use your thumb to press them in, taking care not to cover them.
  3. Place the container in a location that receives morning sun, and afternoon shade.
  4. Water by misting the soil,  Use a hand spray bottle or pump sprayer to ensure you don’t wash away or cover the seed.  Try to do this only in the morning.
  5. Germination should occur within two weeks.
  6. Once the first set of true leaves are grown, thin or separate seedlings.  This is important to ensure the seedlings grow large.
  7. One the plant has several sets of true leaves, you can transplant it to it’s final location.

I really need to stress that it is very important to place the container in a location that gets morning sun, and afternoon shade.  Soil and seeds can easily dry out when exposed to the hot afternoon sun.  Also, by watering in the morning, you are helping to ensure that the soil surface won’t be excessively moist.  Excessively moist conditions can lead to damp-off disease, which kills many seedlings.

The first leaves (cotyledons) of Bradbury’s Beebalm. Next to them you can see some other seed that hasn’t germinated yet.
These seedlings are approximately four weeks old.

Direct Sowing Bradbury’s Beebalm

Bradbury’s Beebalm seeds can be directly sown in the Fall, Winter, or possibly very early Spring (this is riskier, as the seed needs at least two months of cold evenings and moist soil). To do so, simply sprinkle seed over disturbed ground, then walk on it. As the seed sits on the surface of the soil it will naturally cold stratify while getting the necessary exposure to sunlight. Seed should germinate in Spring naturally as soil temperatures warm.

Propagating Bradbury’s Beebalm by division

One of the easiest ways to propagate Bradbury’s Beebalm is by dividing the plant in early Spring, just as it begins to emerge. This can be done every 3-5 years. To do this, you will need a spade, gardening knife or trowel, and a pot of moist potting soil or moist paper towels.

Early Spring is the best time to divide any member of the Monarda genus as the ground is cool and moist. And these conditions allow divide plants to reestablish themselves quickly. If you divide during the heat of summer, it is much harder to ensure everything survives.

Bradbury’s Beebalm emerging in Spring

Before you divide, you should have a pot with moist potting soil prepared. The pot should be rather large, roughly 6″ diameter at a minimum. Or if you are planning to plant them in your own yard, have the holes pre-dug and watered. A hole should be 2-3″ deep, and at least 6″ diameter (depending on your clump size).

But to divide the plant, simply dig up the clump using a spade just as it begins to emerge in Spring. Start at least two inches away from the clump, and angle your spade at 45 degrees. Work your way around the clump, and pop it out of the hole. Then, using a garden knife, pruning saw, or even a spade, cut off a shoot or cut the clump in half. Replant each half or shoot immediately and keep it watered (but don’t over water it). You can also wrap the root in a moist paper towel until you can plant it, at least for a few hours (but keep it out of sunlight).

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Bradbury’s Beebalm

Pollinators

Bradbury’s Beebalm will attract numerous long-tongued, and short-tongued bees.  Charles Robertson observed a total of 37 species visiting for nectar or pollen in his 1929 survey.  There are also around 12 species of butterfly and skipper that have been documented to visit.    And this plant has been shown to attract hummingbirds as well (I’ve seen mine visited by hummingbirds several times). [8]

Although not the best picture (it’s a still from a video), the red dot near the center is a ruby-throated hummingbird. (And Blue False Indigo blooming in the back)

And all members of the Monarda genus host caterpillars of the sphinx moth, further increasing this plants contribution to wildlife.

Deer and Rabbits

Deer and rabbits, nor any other mammal feed on Bradbury’s Beebalm.  That is most likely due to the strong oregano aroma that the leaves and stalk give off.

Disease

During times of drought it is possible for lower leaves to turn yellow and fall off.  An like other members of Monarda it can get powdery mildew, but the effect is primarily cosmetic.

Where you can buy Bradbury’s Beebalm

Bradbury’s Beebalm is not typically sold in nurseries, as they generally prefer to sell cultivars or hybrids of the Monarda genus. But the straight species can often be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries located near you on our interactive map for North America.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. Unfortunately they don’t always carry this species though. In which case, Prairie Moon Nursery often has them in stock. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Bradbury’s Beebalm

Garden Uses

Bradbury’s Beebalm can be used in formal flower beds, but one must realize that they have to prune roots each Spring or remove unwanted volunteers sprouting from rhizomes in Spring.  It is a relatively small chore for the benefit of having this showy flower.

But, it can also be used in native plant gardens, border gardens, wildflower meadows or microprairies.  In the wild if may eventually be shaded out by taller perennials. So, one must be aware of that fact to help maintain the population.

One study found this plant to be a great component in parking lot gardens. The Morris Arboretum utilized Monarda bradburiana as a ‘filler’ plant that would be interesting, attract wildlife, take up space, and be able to survive with minimum maintenance. [9]

Companion Plants

Because of the wide variety of growing conditions it enjoys and relatively compact size, Bradbury’s Beebalm can grow well with a large number of other flowers. Some flowers that often have overlapping blooming periods as Bradbury’s Beebalm include:

Some species that like similar growing conditions, but bloom after Bradbury’s Beebalm include the following:

Honey

There have been reports that honey made from the flowers of Bradbury’s Beebalm is some of the sweetest tasting you can get. It was also noted for it’s ability to stay liquid during cooler temperatures, with minimal crystallization. [10]

A honeybee flying between flowerheads on Bradbury’s Beebalm

Medicinal Uses

Leaves of Bradbury’s Monarda can be used to make a tea that has been used to treat fevers, upset stomach, gas pains, and as a cold/cough remedy. Others have reported the tea just has a pleasant taste. [11]

Essential Oil / Mosquito Repellent

Essential oils distilled from Bradbury’s Beebalm have shown promise as being a natural mosquito repellent. Research carried out found that it was effective in repelling mosquitos that can carry West Nile virus. [12][13]

Final Thoughts

Bradbury’s Beebalm is a beautiful flower that is the perfect size for most suburban flower beds or yards.  It isn’t imposing in size or overbearing.  It attracts a large number and variety of pollinators.  It’s only drawback is it’s spreading nature via underground rhizomes.  This can be controlled each Spring, and should be done so if one wishes to keep it contained.

Overall this plant should be used more in gardens.  The pollinator value alone justifies it, and the beauty it brings make it a great choice.

Find more native plants here

References:

[1] – Monarda bradburiana, USDA NRCS. Accessed 01JUN2023.

[2] – Britton, Nathaniel Lord, Manual of the flora of the northern states and Canada, New York : Holt, 1905, pp1122. Accessed 01JUN2023

[3] – Denison, Edgar, Missouri wildflowers : a field guide to the wildflowers of Missouri, Jefferson City, Mo. : Missouri Dept. of Conservation, 1998, pp281

[4] – Diblik, Roy, The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2014, pp.218

[5] – Scora, Rainer W. “Divergence in Monarda (Labiatae).” Taxon 16.6 (1967): 499-505.

[6] – Missouri Forest Management Guidelines, Missouri Department of Conservation, Forestry Division, 2014, pp235

[7] – Steyermark, Julian A. “A study of plant distribution in relation to the acidity of various soils in Missouri.” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 18.1 (1931): 41-55.

[8] – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928).

[9] – Ida, Paige. “Advancing the Garden: Parking Lot Plan Planting Plan.” Upenn.edu (2016).

[10] – Freeborn, S.I., Gleanings In Bee Culture, Medina, Ohio, A. I. Root Co., 1874, pp.1006. Accessed 01JUN2023.

[11] – Foster, Steven, Duke, James A., A Field Guide To Medicinal Plants And Herbs, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 2000, pp.436.

[12] – Lawson, Sims K., Prabodh Satyal, and William N. Setzer. “Leaf essential oil composition and terpenoid enantiomeric distribution of Monarda bradburiana Beck cultivated in South Alabama.” American Journal of Essential Oils and Natural Products 9.4 (2021): 10-13.

[13] – Tabanca, Nurhayat, et al. “Bioassay-guided investigation of two Monarda essential oils as repellents of yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 61.36 (2013): 8573-8580.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: https://youtube.com/@growitbuildit Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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