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What is Monarda Didyma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 June 2018
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Monarda didyma is a perennial flowering plant native to the eastern regions of North America. This plant is grown ornamentally in many regions of the world and was used historically as a medicinal plant. In addition to having potential medicinal applications, Monarda didyma also has culinary uses and can be used in salads and other recipes. Nurseries often carry this plant and can also order specific cultivars and hybrids for gardeners interested in growing them. Gardeners may also arrange to take cuttings from other gardeners by request.

This plant has a number of common names including bergamot, scarlet beebalm, Osewego tea, and crimson beebalm. It has square stems with opposite serrated leaves, topped with bright red spiky flowers. The plants smell of bergamot oranges, explaining one of the common names, and will grow in spreading clumps when they find a corner of the garden they like. Sometimes volunteers may sprout up in areas where the plant is native or many people are cultivating it.

Monarda didyma prefers well-drained soil rich in organic material. These plants like full sun, although they can grow in partial shade, and they are hardiest in USDA zones four through eight. Some cultivars are susceptible to powdery mildew. Gardeners have the option of selecting resistant cultivars or spraying their Monarda didyma with fungicides to prevent mildew from settling in. It is also advisable to periodically thin the plants, as tightly clustered stems and leaves tend to promote the growth of mildew.

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These colorful plants work best when planted in beds where they are allowed to spread and have some room to grow. Gardeners who want to attract birds or butterflies may want to consider Monarda didyma, because this plant is tremendously attractive to members of the animal kingdom. It can also be grown in aromatic gardens. The scent meshes well with other citrus-like garden odors, as well as mints. When massed, Monarda didyma can make an excellent backdrop for lower, smaller plants in a garden bed.

Although true Monarda didyma has scarlet flowers, there are a number of cultivars and hybrids available. These have white, yellow, pink, and other flower colors and are bred to be hardy and suitable for cultivation in a wide variety of climates. In addition to being suitable in flower beds and meadows, Monarda didyma is also excellent for container gardening. Gardeners with limited space can grow this plant on their porches or in window boxes.

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