Spotted Bee Balm – Facts, Identification, Grow & Care

Spotted Bee Balm is a herbaceous perennial native to North America, and one of the most interesting flowers we have in our garden.  The blooms on Spotted Beebalm look more like some crazy tropical flower rather than most of our other natives.  The individual flowers that are wrapped around the stem (whorled) combined with the color transitions really make it an interesting specimen.  It doesn’t resemble any other Bee Balm/Monarda flower, so is unmistakable in its appearance and easy to identify.Spotted Bee Balm Monarda Punctata

 Spotted Bee Balm Facts

  • Spotted Bee Balm was used medicinally by Native Americans
  • It is a short-lived perennial, lasting 2-5 years.
  • The leaves and stems of this plant smell like oregano, and this makes it a very deer/rabbit resistant plant
  • Is a member of the mint family
  • Spotted Beebalm will bloom for 2 months or more
  • Blooms in August-October, making it the latest blooming Bee Balm
  • The Scientific Name of Spotted Bee Balm is Monarda punctata

Looking for other forms of Bee Balm?  See our overview on several species by clicking on the image below!

 

Physical Description and Identification – Spotted Bee Balm

This plant is somewhat clump forming, and can rapidly expand from a seedling to a 2′ diameter mass of stalks.  Typically growing 2-3 feet in good 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 reddish-brown to 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.

Flower

The flowers are whorled, or to put it another way, they wrap around the stem.  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 different appearance.  There is a sub-variety of Monarda Punctata v. arkansasa that has its blooms to one side of the stem only though.

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

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

The leaf bracts that are just below the flowers can come in a variety of colors, 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 at the edge.

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

Spotted Bee Balm has a taproot, as well as shallow fibrous roots.

Spotted Bee Balm Growing Conditions

This plant is found along slopes or in drier sandy soils in full sun.  It is also found in open/scrub prairies.  It can tolerate partial shade though.  Although, I am growing this plant in somewhat clay soil, and it seems to be doing fine.

I’ve found that Spotted Bee Balm takes a bit longer to emerge in the Spring, and is generally slow growing until temperatures warm up.  So, be patient when looking for this plant.  However, it generally doesn’t live that long, so it is good to replace, or plant new seedlings beside it.

How to care  for Spotted Bee Balm

If you plant Spotted Bee Balm in conditions that it likes, it will not really require much care.  Since it is native to North America, it is generally resistant to diseases.  I’ve never noticed anything wrong with my specimens.

Spotted Bee Balm should require no supplemental fertilizer.  It should grow tall, full and bloom very well once established.  It will self-seed a bit, so I find it is best to let a couple seedlings develop every year or two.  That way I never wind up with an empty space.

Maintenance

Some maintenance that might be required is to stake the plant if it flops over.  If you notice this to be a problem, then to prevent it from flopping over or leaning too much you can trim it earlier in the year.  In mid-June, just trim the plant back to 1/2 of its current height.  This will not effect blooming, and will shorten the overall plant and help it stay erect.

The only maintenance that should be regularly done to this plant is to trim it back in the Winter (once it is all brown) or Spring after insects have emerged.  Many insects will burrow into a stem to overwinter, so I always try to leave the plant alone.

Spotted Bee Balm in October

Alternatively, if I do cut it back in the Fall, I will try to leave the stems in a brush pile and not compost them.  In Spring, after insects have been emerging for a week or two, then I will compost the plant.

How to Establish

If purchasing from a garden center, you can just plant seedlings in an area with full or partial sun, and medium to dry soil that drains well.  Mother nature will handle the rest, and you will be treated to late season color and pollinator action!

How to grow Spotted Bee Balm from Seed

Spotted Bee Balm Seedling

  1. In early Spring, get some small pots and fill with moist potting soil or seed-starting mix.
  2. To start from seed, just sprinkle some of the tiny seed from the flowers into the pots. Spotted Bee Balm seed needs light to germinate.
  3. Place the pots in an area that gets morning sun.
  4. Keep the soil moist by misting the pots using a spray bottle. Don’t use a watering can can easily wash away the tiny seed.
  5. After germination and true leaves have developed, thin until there are just 1-2 plants.
  6. Keep moist after germination, and let the seedling develop until it is several inches tall.
  7. Transplant out to its final location.

Transplanting Established Plants

Since it has a taproot, moving Spotted Bee Balm can be tricky.  Back in the 80’s, the University of Wisconsin did a study to see best methods for transplanting various prairie plants.  They found that damaging, or pruning the roots of Monarda Punctata lowered the overall survival rate in most cases.

Spotted Bee Balm Reference Table

Common Name Spotted Bee Balm, Horsemint, Spotted Horsemint
Scientific name Monarda punctata
Bloom Time Late Summer / Early Fall
Bloom Duration 6-8 weeks
Color White to Purple leaves, yellow/cream color center (corolla)
Bloom Size ‘1-3” diameter whorled flowers
Characteristics Whorled flowers along the upper portion of the stem, several flowers per stem
Height 2-3’ (60-120 cm)
Spacing/Spread 3’ spread (1 m)
Light Requirements Full Sun / Partial Shade
Soil Types Sand, Loam
Moisture Dry to medium
Maintenance None.  Cut back in Spring after insects have emerged
Typical Use Flower beds, meadow, prairie, roadside
Fauna Associations Bees, butterflies
Larval Host Gray Marvel, and Pyralid Moths
Sowing Depth Surface
Stratification None
Native Range USDA Zones 3-9
Notes This is a unique looking plant!

Garden Uses

This plant will do great as a single specimen, or several plants clustered together.  The flowers are interesting enough where you don’t really need to have a mass of plants for it to look stunning.  In our front flower beds, I have a single specimen, and it is about 2-3′ wide by 3′ tall, and looks great.  It is constantly abuzz with bees, butterflies, and moths from Early August into October.

That being said, it would be a great choice for a backyard prairie, wildflower garden, or a border.  Although if the soil is very fertile, it could succumb to competition from other plants that grow faster early in the Spring.

Companion Plants

Aromatic Aster with Spotted Bee Balm in background
Blooming in mid-October in zone 6, Spotted Bee Balm and Aromatic Aster

Spotted Beebalm can be used strategically to provide late season blooms.  It can pair well with Echinacea, Black Eyed Susans, and Lanceleaf Coreopsis to help provide near-continuous color.  I have mine growing near some Aromatic Aster, which provides very stunning and showy fall color.  Additionally, I’ve begun planting this in our backyard micro prairie.

To see how to make your own backyard micro-prairie, click here.

Fauna

Spotted Bee Balm is a late-season pollinator favorite.  The bumble bees are almost always gathering pollen from it, and it is also visited by many small butterflies and moths.  It is also a larval host for several species of moth.

monarch butterfly spotted bee balm monarda punctata
Monarch Butterfly pollinating Spotted Bee Balm in October (Monarda punctata)

Pests and diseases

This plant is generally disease free.  As a native plant it has evolved to be resistant to most diseases that could affect it.  Powdery mildew does affect other forms of bee balm, but in the drier environments that Spotted Bee Balm prefers it probably isn’t as common.  I’ve never noticed it on my plants.

Spotted Bee Balm, like all bee balms are very resistant to rabbit and deer damage / browsing.  The strong oregano-like odor that the leaves and stem emit are most likely not very tasty to a rabbit or deer.

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spotted bee balm grow and care guide

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