fresh flower


This winning flower offers rich texture and color.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

Monarda didyma
Beebalm, Oswego Tea, Bergamot, Horsemint

1 SO SQUARE. Monarda didyma, pronounced mo-NAR-duh DID-ee-muh, is a square-stemmed perennial that has brightly colored, narrow, two-lipped, tubular flowers that form tiers around the stems. The shaggy, outwardly coiled blossoms resemble a beautiful spider or a Raggedy Ann doll’s hair. The plant, which was named “Herb of the Year” by the International Herb Association in 1996, has aromatic foliage.

2 TWO'S COMPANY. The genus Monarda is named for Nicolas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish botanist and physician. He wrote about this plant in 1569 and called it “bergamot” because the foliage scent is similar to the Italian bergamot orange, a source of oil used in cosmetics. The species name didyma means “in pairs,” referring to the stamens, the male part of flowers where pollen forms.

3 THE RELATIVES. Monardas are members of the mint family, named both Labiatae and Lamiaceae. Family members, which also include Coleus, lavender, rosemary and sage, are easily recognized by their square stems and fragrant foliages. Most Monardas are native to the Mediterranean and North America.

4 RICH COLORS FOR SUMMER. Monardas are available in deep red, purple, pink, white, salmon and mahogany. They are field-grown flowers and are available from June through the summer months from domestic and Dutch growers.

5 SECRET SHOPPER. When purchasing Monardas, look for strong, healthy stems. Do not purchase bunches that show signs of rot or damage, and avoid flowers that show signs of mold inside the flower heads.

6 CLEANUP. Unpack the bunches and remove any foliage that would fall below the water line in vases or buckets. Cut the stems at an angle, and dip or place them into a hydration solution. Then place the stems into a clean bucket containing a properly prepared cut flower food solution.

7 LEAVE THEM OUT. Keep Monardas in a brightly lit, warm area where they can open and develop for at least two hours. They can be stored in a floral refrigerator at 34 F to 38 F, but these flowers will do best if kept in normal room-temperature conditions.

8 WATER-FRIENDLY. Monardas do best in vase arrangements. If floral foam is used, make sure there is plenty of water in the containers at all times for these thirsty flowers. Caution customers to display arrangements away from heat sources and direct sunlight to maximize vase life.
With good care, Monardas can last up to nine days. The stems and bracts can dry and form pods that can be saved and used in dried designs.

9 A SPOT OF TEA. After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Monarda was a tea substitute in New England and New York. The common name Oswego tea comes from Oswego, N.Y. Tea made from Monarda is said to relieve a variety of ailments including nausea, insomnia and sore throats. In addition, the leaves have been used as a poultice for skin eruptions and bee stings.

10 THE BIRDS AND BEES. Bumblebees love Monardas, which explains the common name bee balm. Other common names are horsemint, Indian’s plume and fragrant or red balm. Hummingbirds also are attracted to this plant for its nectar.

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.

Some information provided by the California Cut Flower Commission and Repetto Nursery, Half Moon Bay, Calif.

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