Complete Guide to Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)


Looking to attract all the bees to your yard? Want to bring in some butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths at the same time? Yeah? Look no further than Wild Bergamot! I’ve been growing this tough-as-nails wildflower for years and can teach you all you need to know!

wild bergamot Monarda fistulosa
Wild Bergamot, Monarda Fistulosa

In this article:

What is Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is a perennial wildflower native to most of North America. Scientifically known as Monarda fistulosa, it will grow 2-4′ tall in full sun and well drained soil. A member of the mint family, Wild Bergamot blooms for 1 month in Summer, and attracts many of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Wild Bergamot is good for attracting bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds to your yard! This is truly one of the showier native plants you can grow. And it quickly establishes itself to full size in 2 years from seed.

If you wish to find this plant in the wild, Wild Bergamot naturally grows in prairies, open meadows, open woods, and along roadsides. It can grow in absolutely poor soil! Also, as it is drought tolerant, it is perfect for hot Summers in well drained areas.

About all these common names and scientific names…..

But Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) IS NOT the same as Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)! They are related as they are in the same genus, but these are completely different species! Now, you can grow them side by side (I do!), but below is a table showing the differences between Wild Bergamot vs Bee Balm

Differences between Wild Bergamot and Bee Balm

Common NameWild BergamotBee Balm
Latin NameMonarda fistulosaMonarda didyma
Image
Flower ColorLavender / Pink / PurpleRed
Bloom TimeEarly to mid SummerLate Spring – Early Summer
HabitatDry to Medium SoilMoist to Medium Soil
PollinatorsMany bees, butterflies, hummingbirdsFew bees, certain butterfly species, Many humingbirds

And Wild Bergamot is not the same as Bergamot Orange, which is a citrus fruit native to Italy. Nor is it the same as Wild Lavender, which is endemic to a different continent.

If you have spent some time researching Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm, or any other member of the Monarda genus on the internet, you may be feeling a bit confused. That is understandable, as many (large) websites confuse the species, or use common names interchangeably. For a complete guide to Bee Balms,the Monarda Genus and correct names Click Here.

Quick facts about Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot Reference Table

Scientific NameMonarda fistulosa
Common Name(s)Wild Bergamot, Horse-mint, Bee Balm
Native Range, USDA ZoneMost of North America, Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. USDA Zone 3-9
Bloom TimeMid-Summer
Blooming Season, ColorBlooms for 4 weeks in Mid-Summer, Lavender / Purple colored flowers
Height (Size)2-4′ (60-120 cm)
Spacing / Spread2-3′ (60-90 cm)
Light RequirementsFull Sun, Partial Shade
Soil TypesSandy loam, loam, clay
MoistureDry to medium
Pollinator Associations / Larval HostsHeavily visited by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths. / Sphinx Moth and Gray Marvel caterpillars feed on foliage

Benefits of growing Wild Bergamot

Attract lots of pollinators with Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is one of the best plants for attracting long-tongue bees, including honey bees, bumblebees, miner bees, leaf cutter and much more. In addition to bees, you will see numerous butterflies and skippers visiting. [2] If you pause and gaze at the flower in the afternoon, it will seem like a busy downtown city center for pollinators.

Wild Bergamot will attract hummingbirds and hummingbird moths

If you have several Wild Bergamot plants, you will likely see numerous hummingbirds and hummingbird moths. The long tubular flowers of Wild Bergamot mean that the nectar is reserved only for those who can reach it! The hummingbird moths seem to really prefer it, as I seem them visit Wild Bergamot more than any other flower I grow.

It’s hard to see the hummingbird moth, as they are quite difficult to photograph. But there she is with the clear wings!

Wild Bergamot makes a great cut flower

The long stems leading up to the blooms make Wild Bergamot great for cut flowers. It can fit almost any vase, and the plant produces numerous blooms. Furthermore, the foliage has a minty-oregano aroma.

Wild Bergamot is deer and rabbit resistant

Wild Bergamot is a member of the mint family, and like many plants in the Mint family they foliage has a strong aroma. Deer and rabbits will avoid Wild Bergamot due to the strong oregano aroma of the leaves and stem. If you don’t believe me, just crush some leaves and smell.

The foliage of Wild Bergamot really does smell like oregano mixed with mint or thyme.

Wild Bergamot is beautiful

Wild Bergamot will flower in early to late Summer providing beautiful lavender colored flowers.

Members of the Monarda genus have some of the most unique flowers in all of North America. The bloom looks to be something out of a tropical rain forest, almost alien like. But, it has it’s own beauty. The soft pink-lavender color can blend with any other flower and look beautiful!

Wild Bergamot is tough-as-nails

This plant, Wild Bergamot can withstand drought, competition with many invasives, and thrive! It’s natural resistance to herbivores and disease resistance allows this plant to grow almost anywhere that is dry to medium in moisture. And if you have poor soil, this plant will thrive.

Identification and Characteristics of Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot will consist of multiple stalks shooting up from the ground, reaching 4′ tall in optimum conditions. [1] It will be a clump of stalks, with some branching near the top. You will find that Wild Bergamot naturally grows in meadows, prairies, and roadsides where it is native.

Stalk / Stem

As a member of the mint family, Wild Bergamot will have a square, or 4-sided stem. Stems will be light green in color and smooth. In the upper 3rd of the plant, there will be branching that gives way to individual flowers.

Wild Bergamot Leaves

Leaves of Wild Bergamot are opposite along the stem. They are lanceolate or ovate, and approximately 3-4″ long by half as wide. The color can range from light green to tinted red or purple. The edges of the leaf are serrated (saw-toothed).

There are many local variations of this plant, and the coloring seems to be more ‘purple’ like when young or emerging in Spring. Changing to green when the plant matures.

Wild Bergamot Flower / Bloom

The 1-3″ diameter flower-heads of Wild Bergamot are pink to light purple in color. The flowering season/period lasts for about 1 month in mid-summer. Blooms start small, blooming in the center and growing as the flower matures. So, it blooms from the inside of the disc to the outside.

The individual flowers on the flower-head of Wild Bergamot are somewhat tubular, approximately 1″ long with two petals. The lower petal will hang down like a tongue or mouth.

Seed heads will begin to form after blooming, maturing about six weeks later. The tubes of Wild Bergamot seed heads hold seed quite well compared to other species of Monarda.

Root of Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot root depth is quite deep as it helps with drought tolerance. This is in stark contrast to it’s cousin, Monarda didyma, which has very shallow rooting.

In addition to deep roots, Wild Bergamot will spread by rhizome roots. [9] Although this primarily occurs in lighter soils. I have grown this flower for years though, and have never seen the Wild Bergamot spread outside of it’s original clump. But, it is easy to manage rhizomes of other Monarda species such as Scarlet Bee Balm.

Grow and Care for Wild Bergamot

The general growing conditions for Wild Bergamot is full sun with well drained soil. This plant can grow almost anywhere!

Sunlight Requirements for Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot can grow in full sun (6+ hours direct sun) or partial shade (4-6 hours per day). The more sun it receives, the taller and more blooms it will produce.

Moisture Requirements for Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot grows well in medium moist to dry soil. It’s deep roots allow it to tolerate drought quite well, much better than other Monarda species.

Soil Requirements for Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot can grow in sandy loam, loam, or clay soil. The adaptation of this plant to grow in nearly all soils make it extremely versatile in the garden. If you think your soil is a bit on the sandy side, you can always amend it with some compost.

Is Wild Bergamot Invasive?

Wild Bergamot can be aggressive in disturbed areas. It’s rhizome roots allow it to spread over long periods of time. But, it is easily controlled via pulling unwanted seedlings. Where it has competition, it will not spread aggressively.

If you wish to contain Wild Bergamot’s spreading nature, you can always plant it inside of a pot. We have a detailed guide to containing members of the mint family here.

monarda meadow beebalm

I should note that although I’ve seen this plant in all of it’s prolific glory in the wild….it has not been aggressive in my gardens (4 years growing multiple specimens). So, take that for what it is worth.

Caring for Wild Bergamot in Winter

As long as you are in zone 3-9, Wild Bergamot will not need special care in winter. But, if you like, you can cut back the dead stalks to the ground in November/December.

Personally, I leave my stalks with seed heads up until Spring. This way, birds can eat the seed during the cold winter months. And if any insect larvae are burrowed in the stalks, they will be able to emerge once temperatures warm up in the Spring.

Wild Bergamot leaves turning yellow

The lower leaves of Wild Bergamot will often turn yellow as the growing season progresses. I see this on all of my plants, and plants in the wild.

I believe it to just be a natural phenomenon. The plant sheds its lower leaves, as they no longer receive enough sunlight. So, they drop them to not expend energy on leaves that don’t take in enough sunlight.

How to Grow Wild Bergamot from Seed

The germination of Wild Bergamot seed is quite easy. The seed of Wild Bergamot does not require any cold stratification. So, you can start seeds in the Spring or Summer, whenever you like.

Seeds from Wild Bergamot need sunlight to germinate. So, you just scatter them on soil and press them in.

Steps to grow Wild Bergamot from seed

  1. Fill a pot with moist potting soil, up to 1/2″ from the top (12 mm)
  2. Scatter several Wild Bergamot seeds on the surface of the soil
  3. Press them in with your finger. The seed needs good contact with the soil, but also sunlight.
  4. Place the container in a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade
Wild Bergamot Seedlings

Germination should occur within a couple of weeks [3]

Purchase Seed

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. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

How long to establish Wild Bergamot from seed

Wild Bergamot establishes itself quickly from seed. In general it will generally bloom the second year after seed germination. And by year 3, the plant will be full size.

Saving Seeds from Wild Bergamot

If you already have some plants, or know where some grow you can easily save seed yourself. We’ve written a detailed step by step guide to saving seed from Wild Bergamot here.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Wild Bergamot

Pollinators of Wild Bergamot

Bees love Wild Bergamot

There are literally dozens of species of bees that will visit Wild Bergamot. It is mainly long tongue bees as only they can reach the nectar at the base of the tubular flower. Although there are also some species of bees that will rip open the base of the flower to get to the nectar!

Butterflies love Wild Bergamot

There many species of butterfly that will visit Wild Bergamot including Swallowtails, Fritillary, and skippers. The more plants you grow will directly increase the number of butterflies you will attract.

Wild Bergamot is also the larval hose of the Raspberry Pyrausta moth.

Wild Bergamot attracts Hummingbirds and Hummingbird Moths

Rubythroated Hummingbirds will visit Wild Bergamot. This makes sense, as they are also the primary pollinator of Wild Bergamot’s cousin, Monarda didyma.

But Red Clearwing Hummingbird Moths are also attracted to Wild Bergamot. I see more Hummingbird Moths visiting my Bergamot plants than any other species of flower I grow.

Dogs / Cats and Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is safe for both Dogs and Cats. It will not harm them at all.

Pests of Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is very deer and rabbit resistant. Deer and rabbits tend to leave all members of the Monarda genus alone, which includes Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). This is due to the strong aroma emitted by the stems and leaves.

Diseases effecting Wild Bergamot

Powdery Mildew on Wild Bergamot

There is one disease that greatly effects Wild Bergamot, as well as many other members of the Monarda genus. Powerdy Mildew often forms on the leaves of Wild Bergamot. The effect is mainly cosmetic. But it will often show up, none the less.

I’ve been growing Wild Bergamot for years, and often get Powdery Mildew. It has never seemed to impact the growth, flowering, or size of my plants (and some of my plants exceed published maximum size!). My plants are in full sun, and have plenty of airflow. But, they often get Powdery Mildew. It really doesn’t seem to effect the plant, so it is not a problem.

If you wish to treat plants for powdery mildew, there are several commercial fungicides available.

Leaf Spot Fungus

Another fungus that can effect Wild Bergamot is Leaf Spot Fungus. Like Powdery Mildew, the main effects are cosmetic. Also like Powdery Mildew, you can treat Leaf-Spot Fungus with over-the-counter fungicides at your local garden center.

Space Wild Bergamot plants 3′ apart and place in full sun with good airflow to reduce the chances of Leaf Spot Fungus.

Where you can buy Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is not normally available in stores. While there are numerous cultivars [4] and nativars of Monarda didyma available, Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is more rare.

But Wild Bergamot establishes itself from seed quite quickly. So, growing from seed an effective and economical way to propagate Wild Bergamot.

Uses of Wild Bergamot

Garden Uses

Wild Bergamot is versatile in the garden in that it fits in a manicured flower bed or a wildflower garden, meadow, or micro-prairie. It’s tall height make it a good choice for the back of the garden. Although you can trim the stems back in May to keep the plant shorter and bushier.

If you need a wild border, Wild Bergamot is a great choice. It will spread nicely providing lots of pollinator habitat and bird food. Wild Bergamot really makes a great border garden.

Wild Bergamot in pots or containers

Due to it’s deep roots, Wild Bergamot should not be grown in pots unless they are sufficiently deep (24″+).

Wild Bergamot Companion Plants

There are a large number of native flowers that look great blooming next to Wild Bergamot. Some great companion plants are any kind of Black Eyed Susan or False Sunflower, as the yellow looks great contrasting against the lavender blooms of Bergamot.

But, here are some other suggestions. Have a look – you will see how great these would look with Bergamot, and the bloom periods overlap!

Wild Bergamot Edibility

Leaves, stems and flowers of Wild Bergamot are edible. They can be used as a garnish or in salads raw or cooked. Leaves are used to make tea and as a garnish. But stems, flowers, and leaves can be used as a seasoning herb in soups, stews.

Essential Oil Uses of Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot contains the essiential oil known as ‘Bergamot Oil’. This is used in diffusers to help relieve cold symptoms or bronchial symptoms. [5] [6]

Wild Bergamot as a mosquito repellent

Research has been underway for using compounds contained in Wild Bergamot as a mosquito repellent. [7] This is exciting news, as any new form of natural mosquito repellent would be welcomed!

Who would have thought that we have natural Mosquito repellents growing all around us!

Native American Medicinal Uses of Wild Bergamot

Over 70 uses of Wild Bergamot have been documented by 21 different tribes. [8]. All sorts of symptoms were treated with this plant, as a tea or infusion to rubbing flowers on burst boils. Some of the uses include the following:

  • Analgesic
  • Cold Remedy
  • Cough Medicine
  • Dermatological Aid
  • Diaphoretic
  • Diuretic
  • Emetic
  • Eye Medicine
  • Febrifuge
  • Gastrointestinal aid
  • Hear Medicine
  • Hemostat
  • Incense
  • Kidney Aid
  • Sedative
  • Throat aid

But there are many, many more uses documented by numerous people. Have a look for yourself!

Read more about other Monarda Species….

References:

[1] – Fosberg, F. R., and Lena Artz. “The Varieties of Monarda Fistulosa L.” Castanea, vol. 18, no. 4, 1953, pp. 128–130. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4031559. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.

[2] – Cresswell, J.E. How and why do nectar-foraging bumblebees initiate movements between inflorescences of wild bergamot Monarda fistulosa (Lamiaceae)?. Oecologia 82, 450–460 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00319785

[3] – Ana-Maria CIURUȘNIUC, Teodor ROBU. STUDY OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF CULTIVATED SPECIES OF THE GENUS Monarda L. IN VASLUI COUNTY, TO INTRODUCE THEM IN CULTIVATION AS MEDICINAL, AROMATIC AND DECORATIVE PLANTS. Lucrări Ştiinţifice – vol. 55 (2) /2012, seria Agronomie. www.uaiasi.ro/revagrois/PDF/2012-2/paper/2012-55(2)-59-en.pdf Retrieved 12 FEB 2021

[4] – Davidson C.G. (2007) Monarda, Bee-balm. In: Anderson N.O. (eds) Flower Breeding and Genetics. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4428-1_28

[5] – United States National Institute of Health. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Thymol

[6] – Samuel Clarke Hood. Commercial Production of Thymol from Horsemint (Monarda Punctata). U.S. Department of Agriculture 1916

[7]- Nurhayat Tabanca, Ulrich R. Bernier, Abbas Ali, Mei Wang, Betul Demirci, Eugene K. Blythe, Shabana I. Khan, K. Husnu Can Baser, and Ikhlas A. Khan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013 61 (36), 8573-8580, DOI: 10.1021/jf402182h

[8] – Native American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 12FEB2021. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/2504/

[9] – Hayden, Ada. “The Ecologic Subterranean Anatomy of Some Plants of a Prairie Province in Central Iowa.” American Journal of Botany, vol. 6, no. 3, 1919, pp. 87–105. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2435187. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

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 six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! 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!

Recent Posts