Complete Guide to Spotted Bee Balm, Monarda Punctata


Spotted Bee Balm is one of the most complex and unique flowers native to North America. Looking like something from an alien world, this beautiful native flower blooms in late summer and can provide some of the most unique curb appeal and interest to your home. I’ve been growing this flower since 2017, and can share all that I’ve learned with you.

In this article:

What is Spotted Bee Balm

Spotted Bee Balm is a native short-lived perennial or annual wildflower native to North America, mainly East of the Rocky Mountains. Scientifically known as Monarda punctata, it grows 2-3′ tall in full sun or partial shade and well drained sandy or loam soil. The complex purple/pink-yellow blooms attract numerous bees and butterflies.

Spotted Bee Balm is good for bringing beauty as well as attracting bees and butterflies to your yard and garden. The long bloom duration and interesting color make this plant a great choice for any flower bed or wild area.

Spotted Bee Balm Native Range. Click on image to enlarge.

There aren’t too many perennial species with a native range as large as Monarda punctata. But Spotted Bee Balm can be found from Florida to Michigan and Ontario, New Mexico, even Vermont and Massachusetts. It is a wide ranging plant that specializes growing places that few others can.

Reference Table

Scientific NameMonarda Punctata
Common Name(s)Spotted Bee Balm, Horsemint, Spotted Horsemint, Horsemint Spotted Beebalm
Native Range, USDA ZoneNorth America, East of Rocky Mountains / USDA Zone 3-9
Bloom TimeLate Summer, Early Fall
Bloom Duration, Color2 months, Pink/Purple and yellow with red dots, complex
Height2-3’ (60-120 cm)
Spacing / Spread3’ spread (1 m)
Light RequirementsFull Sun / Partial Shade
Soil TypesSand, Loam
MoistureDry to medium
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, Butterflies / Larval host of Gray Marvel, Pyralid Moths, Raspberry Pyrausta

What are the Benefits of Spotted Bee Balm

It’s beautiful

The blooms of Spotted Beebalm are one of the most intricate, unique, and beautiful in all of North America. Not many plants can boast having 4-5 colors in a single bloom. When I look at my Spotted Bee Balm patch it seems like it should belong in some far off remove jungle! But it is native to North America!

Pollinators Love Spotted Bee Balm

There are numerous species of bees and butterflies that visit Spotted Bee Balm for pollen and nectar. Hosting several species of moth and butterfly, it’s value to pollinators is unquestionable. My patch is a buzz with activity from shortly after dawn until sunset when blooming. [1]

A long bloom duration

Spotted Bee Balm starts blooming mid to late Summer and will continue for 1-2 months. If you have a number of plants, it is not uncommon to have active blooms for 3 months! I’m in zone 6 and have been able to have isolated specimens still available for bees!

While most other Bee Balms have Spring and Summer bloom time, Spotted Bee Balm will bloom in late Summer/Fall.

Easy to grow from seed

Spotted Bee Balm is one of the easier plants to grow from seed. No pre-treatment is necessary, and no planting depth! Just keep the seeds moist and in morning sun. You should be able to germinate Spotted Bee Balm within a few weeks.

Oh, and before I forget, it will bloom the first year if you germinate it in Spring!

Drought Tolerant

Many Bee Balms like moist environments. For example Scarlet Bee Balm can be found along creeks and open woods with moist soil in the wild.

Well, Spotted Bee Balm is the opposite, as it likes sandy soil and full sun! Spotted Bee Balm is drought tolerant and can survive where other members of the Monarda genus cannot. [2]

Identification and Characteristics of Spotted Bee Balm

Spotted Bee Balm is clump forming, and can rapidly expand from a seedling to a 1′-2′ diameter group of stalks.  Typically growing to a height of 2-3 feet in optimum conditions, it can flop over late in the blooming period.  So having other flowers nearby for support, or staking can help it look beautiful for longer.

Stalk / Stem

The square-shaped stalk/stem will be light green to reddish-brown/purple in color.  Additionally, if you were to look very closely at the stem you would see it was covered in very tiny hairs.

It is generally erect except for late in the season when it ‘can’ develop a lean.  There is no branching along the stem until the upper portion.

Leaves

The leaves along the stem are opposite and lance shaped, but quite narrow.  Individual leaf size is typically 3″ long, by 1″ wide. The edges of the leaves are serrated.

Spotted Bee Balm leaves will give off an aroma when crushed that is similar to Oregano or Thyme. This helps make the plant very deer and rabbit resistant.

Flower

The pink/purple and yellow/white whorled flowers of Spotted Bee Balm completely wrap around the stem, occurring at intervals up the stalk.  The blooming period for Spotted Bee Balm usually begins in late Summer and extends into Fall, for a total bloom duration of 1-2 months.

The blooms have interesting coloring. If you look closely at the individual flower, which has a tubular structure, you can see how it resembles other bee balms.  But the whorled manner in which the individual flower is distributed around the stem really give this a unique appearance. 

There is a sub-variety of Monarda Punctata v. arkansasa that has its blooms to one side of the stem only though.

The color of an individual flower though is generally a white-yellow or cream color, with small purple or red spots.  So, now you know where the ‘common name’ comes from!

Spotted Bee Balm Flower
Note the cream-colored, purple-spotted flowers. And the purple-to-green leaf bracts.

The leaf bracts that are just below the flowers can come in a variety of pink, lavender or purple, and can transition from where they attach to the stem to the tip.  In general, the leaf bract will start white at the base and change to pink/purple as it progresses to the tip. The underside of the bract is green.

Blooming on Spotted Bee Balm will begin in early to mid-August, and continue into October (typically).  This is much later than Scarlet, or Red Bee Balm, which blooms May-July.  It is also beyond Wild Bergmot (Monarda Fistulosa) which blooms from June through August.

Root

The root system of Spotted Bee Balm consists of a taproot, as well as shallow fibrous roots. Spotted Bee Balm does not have rhizome roots that spread all over your yard.

The root system of a two year old Spotted Bee Balm plant

Is Spotted Bee Balm Invasive or does it spread?

Spotted Bee Balm will spread by self-seeding locally in disturbed or mulched areas, but it is not invasive. It will not send rhizome runners all over your yard unlike other members of the mint family.

Grow and Care for Spotted Bee Balm

Plant Spotted Bee Balm in conditions it prefers, and it should thrive. Full sun and well draining soil are the primary conditions to consider when choosing a location to plant Spotted Bee Balm.

The video below is a complete profile on this plant from seed to bloom. It covers every aspect of this article.

Sunlight Requirements

Spotted Bee Balm prefers full sun (6 hours direct sunlight per day) but will tolerate partial shade (4-6 hours direct sun). The more sun it receives, the larger and showier the plant will be.

Water Requirements

Spotted Bee Balm will grow best in medium-moist to dry soil. It is very drought tolerant. [2] But, the soil should drain well. Spotted Bee Balm roots are susceptible to root rot.

Soil Requirements

Spotted Bee Balm prefers sandy soil to any type of loam that drains well. You can grow them in clay, but the soil needs to drain! If it does not the plant may die from root rot.

How to Grow Spotted Bee Balm from Seed

Germinating Spotted Bee Balm is easy for gardeners of any level. After the last frost date, plant the seed on the surface by pressing them into the soil, but not covering them. Spotted Beebalm seed needs sunlight to germinate. Keep the seed moist and it should sprout within a few weeks. [3]

Spotted Bee Balm Seedling
Spotted Bee Balm Seedling

One really nice benefit of Spotted Bee Balm is that it will typically bloom the first year. Just make sure you get it started early!

Steps to germinate Spotted Bee Balm Seed (Monarda punctata)

  1. Fill a container with moist potting soil, leaving a 1/2″ (12 mm) gap at the top. Tamp the soil firm.
  2. Sprinkle several Spotted Bee Balm seeds on the surface. Press them firmly into the soil, but do not cover them.
  3. Place container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Keep the soil moist by misting in the mornings.
  4. Germination should occur within several weeks.
Spotted Bee Balm Seedlings

Spotted Bee Balm Planting Guide

Once your seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves, you can transplant the seedling to the garden. This should occur after last frost. Although if the seed was winter sown (not required) then you could probably transplant earlier.

  1. Select a location with full sun, well draining soil that is sandy or loam
  2. Dig a hole 1.5X wide, and twice as deep as your seedling.
  3. Fill hole with water, then let it drain
  4. Add a handful of compost to the back-fill soil and mix.
  5. Plant your Spotted Bee Balm seedling. Back fill so that the seedling is level or slightly above the surrounding ground

How to save Spotted Bee Balm seed.

About a month after the blooms have faded, you can collect the seed heads. Carefully cut the dried stalk of Spotted Bee Balm, keeping the whole stalk upright. Place the stalk into a brown paper bag. Let dry for another week or two in a cool dry place.

Then, Place the individual seed heads into a plastic container with a lid. Shake the container vigorously. The seed will become dislodged.

Spotted Bee Balm Seed, Monarda punctata

Pour the seed through a common kitchen strainer onto a paper plate. Repeat to remove chaff until desired level. Store fully dried Spotted Bee Balm seed in a sealed plastic container or envelope for 1-2 years, keeping it in a dark, cool dry place such as a drawer.

For a more detailed guide on saving Bee Balm seed, Click Here

Fall / Winter Maintenance

Once Fall has set in Spotted Bee Balm will go dormant. The flowering stalks will die and turn brown. At this point, you can save the seed or just cut the brown dormant stalks back to the ground if you are trying to keep the area tidy. This is all the maintenance needed.

I personally leave my stalks up until Spring, as certain insects will bore into flower stalks to spend the winter. Once daytime temperatures reach 50F consistently, the insects will generally emerge.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Spotted Bee Balm

Bees

Spotted Bee Balm will bring in numerous species of bees including Bumblebees, honeybees, and Miner bees. [2] Bumblebees are the most frequent visitor in my observations, usually you are able to see several bumblebees at once in my patch.

Butterflies

For butterflies, the endangered Karner Blue butterfly enjoys nectar of Spotted Bee Balm. Other frequent visitors include the Gray Marvel, Pyralid Moth, Raspberry Pyrausta, and the Silver Spotted Skipper. There are several caterpillars that also are hosted by Spotted Bee Balm (Gray Marvel, Pyralid Moth, and Raspberry Pyrausta).

Additionally there are several other beetles and other insects that feed on the foliage.

Deer and Rabbits

Spotted Bee Balm is very deer and rabbit resistant. [1] Like other members of the Monarda genus, and members of the Mint Family, the foliage of Spotted Bee Balm has a strong flavor. Because of this aroma, deer and rabbits will not disturb this plant.

Disease

Like many species, Spotted Bee Balm can be prone to getting fungus like powdery mildew or leaf rust. But, if you plant Spotted Bee Balm in drier conditions that it prefers, and respect the plant spacing this is less likely to occur. In fact I’ve never seen any of my plants have any kind of foliar disease.

Leaves turning white

If you notice a white substance on your leaves, it is likely Powdery Mildew. The effect will mainly be cosmetic, and will occur later in the growing season. Most likely after peak flowering. It is not necessary to treat, but regular fungicides will work.

Leaves turning yellow

Yellowing leaves on Spotted Bee Balm can be a sign of too much water. Or, if the lower leaves are getting shaded too much, it is common for many native plants to shed them. They will turn yellow before they fall off.

This is just a form of energy saving for the plant. Why spend energy maintaining a leaf that can’t provide photosynthesis?

Where you can buy Spotted Bee Balm

Unfortunately, Spotted Bee Balm plants are not widely available. But, you can purchase them from certain specialty nurseries in many areas. Or, you can buy seedlings from Izel online.

The best way to get Spotted Bee Balm is to grow some from seed yourself! Seed is readily available, inexpensive, and easy to germinate. Furthermore, Spotted Bee Balm will bloom the first year as long as you started the Seed in Spring! I’ve had dozens of Spotted Bee Balm seedlings bloom in October while still in their tiny 6-pack that I forgot to plant.

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.)

Uses of Spotted Bee Balm

Garden Uses

Spotted Bee Balm can fill a few roles in any flower bed or pollinator garden. Since it is drought tolerant, and blooms in late Summer and Fall, it can really fill in color/blooming gaps. This can help keep a flower bed looking great as well as provide valuable nectar and pollen for wildlife.

In addition to any flower bed, Spotted Bee Balm is right at home in wildflower gardens, meadows, and micro-prairies. It’s nature of self-seeding help keep the population healthy. But note that in taller meadows Spotted Bee Balm may not survive long as it doesn’t do well against taller prairie specimens such as Wild Sunflower, Tall Sunflower, or the Cup Plant.

Companion Plants

If you are trying to get some other species to bloom concurrently with Spotted Bee Balm, then some good suggestions would be anything that is a late summer or Fall bloomer that is drought tolerant and loves full sun. Some examples are the following:

Spotted Bee Balm Edibility

You can make a tea from Spotted Bee Balm leaves. The leaves are not toxic or poisonous, and can be prepared similar to oriental tea. [4] Additionally the leaves can be used as a spice or seasoning, as well as a garnish in salads. This is due to the presence of Thymol, which is similar to the spice Thyme [5].

I’ve eaten a few Spotted Bee Balm leaves just to see what they tasted like. And they have a strong flavor, and are almost spicy. Spotted Bee Balm leaves taste like a mixture of Oregano and Thyme.

Native American Uses

There are 18 uses for Spotted Bee Balm documented by 6 different Native American tribes. It was primarily used medicinally by the Native Americans. [6]

Some of the uses include:

  • Analgesic – leaves placed in nostrils to treat headaches.
  • Febrifuge
  • Stimulant – stuffed in nostrils to revive or rally a person near death
  • Gastronomical aid – Decoction used to help and treat bowel issues
  • Cough medicine – poultice for cough
  • Cold Medicine – infusion of whole plant. A ‘sweating’ tea was made.
  • Respiratory aid – used as snuff
  • Inhalation / incense

Other uses of Spotted Bee Balm

Essiential Oil

Extract from Spotted Bee Balm is used as essiential oils. [7] Research has been conducted to determine how effective inhalation of oils extracted from leaves are for treating Bronchitis. [8]

Modern Medical Research

Besides essential oils, research has found certain compounds contained in Monarda punctata to help break down fats in mice.[9] Additional research is being carried out to determine what other benefits this medicinal plant may hold. [10]

Read about other Bee Balm flowers here

[1] – A. K. Fiedler, D. A. Landis, Attractiveness of Michigan Native Plants to Arthropod Natural Enemies and Herbivores, Environmental Entomology, Volume 36, Issue 4, 1 August 2007, Pages 751–765, https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/36.4.751

[2] – Logan Rowe, Daniel Gibson, Douglas Landis, Jason Gibbs, Rufus Isaacs, A Comparison of Drought-Tolerant Prairie Plants to Support Managed and Wild Bees in Conservation Programs, Environmental Entomology, Volume 47, Issue 5, October 2018, Pages 1128–1142, https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvy091

[3] – Harold W. Gardner, Tallgrass Prairie Restoration in the Midwestern and Eastern United States. A Hands On Guide. p131. 2011, ISBN: 978-1-4419-7427-3

[4] – Peterson, Lee; A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. p78, 1977.

[5] – Schumann, William Robert; Kremers, Edward.American Journal of Pharmacy (1835-1907); Philadelphia (Sep 1896): 469.

[6] – Native American Ethnobotany Databse. http://naeb.brit.org

[7] – Richard Scora, STUDY OF THE ESSENTIAL LEAF OILS OF THE GENUS MONARDA (LABIATAE), American Journal of Botany, 01 April 1967 https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1537-2197.1967.tb10664.x

[8] – Shubina LP, Siurin SA, Savchenko VM. [Inhalations of essential oils in the combined treatment of patients with chronic bronchitis] Vrachebnoe Delo. 1990 May(5):66-67.

[9] – Keiko Yamada, Toshihiro Murata, Kyoko Kobayashi, Toshio Miyase, Fumihiko Yoshizaki, A lipase inhibitor monoterpene and monoterpene glycosides from Monarda punctata, Phytochemistry, Volume 71, Issue 16, 2010, Pages 1884-1891, ISSN 0031-9422, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2010.08.009.

[10] – Li H, Yang T, Li FY, Yao Y, Sun ZM. Antibacterial activity and mechanism of action of Monarda punctata essential oil and its main components against common bacterial pathogens in respiratory tract. Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2014;7(11):7389-7398. Published 2014 Oct 15.

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!

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