The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Wit of Almost Eden.
Mountain Mint and Pollinator Plants


Obtaining pollinator plants is a new trend in gardening. These plants attract and feed bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, and hummingbirds as a bonus. In  large gardening book I have - misplaced at the moment - the plants that attract one of these groups are often listed for hosting some or most of the others as well.

Names are often disguised in blogs, so I call our neighbor Almost Eden, after his nursery business.

When I mentioned "plants for beneficial insects" to Almost Eden, he said, "That is a slippery slope." The category alone would be enough to landscape any garden. Some accomplish the goal by planting a beautiful perennial garden, as Norma Boeckler has. On a windless day, her flowers enjoy constant attention from insects that most people overlook, such as Hover Flies and Ichneumon Wasps.

Almost Eden has Yoda-like quips about my plant fixations. I told him I let Pokeweed grow, though most people consider it a weed. His answer was "One is often enough."

Poison Hemlock was simply crawling with baby Ladybugs, and I could see them at eye level swarming on a plant growing six feet tall. Almost Eden's solution to the legendary toxic qualities of the plant was - "Just don't eat it." Mr. Gardener was asking about the plant, too, and I did not have a credible excuse for growing something  toxic - with hundreds of seeds forming. Finally, I considered what the two Mrs. Jacksons would say about Poison Hemlock, so I cut it down.

In fact, Wild Parsnip (another member of the carrot family, like Poison Hemlock, Giant Hogweed, and Queen Anne's Lace) is the most toxic plant to have nearby.  Wild Parsnip is worthy of a separate post. The name Wild Parsnip gives no indication of how painful the rashes are from handling the plant, but the plant can put someone in the hospital.



Mountain Mint - Stoloniferous?
Many do not like planting exotic plants from another continent, because native plants attract and support native bees and other fauna. Giant Hogweed, another carrot family member, was imported to England and became a rich man's landscaping prize. Now people realize how obnoxious and invasive Giant Hogweed can be - although great for beneficial insects.

Mountain Mint has the distinction of being native to North America, easy to grow (like all mints), and The Plant for beneficial insects. What could go wrong? - websites are devoted to this question.

Many mints grow through their stolons, underground stems that create new plants everywhere. I learned a new term for this - stoloniferous - Latin in origin, for "cannot stop this plant." Our helper transplanted mint to his front yard and said yesterday, "My mint is out of control."

I said, "Mint is usually out of control. Cut it and use it for mulching your roses." The advantage of a plant that loves the sun and grows so well is its usefulness around flowers. The plants that offend can be recruited and cut to shade more desirable items at their base, holding in moisture and activating more soil creatures.

My first Bee Balm, with a red flower, is definitely stoloniferous. I nurtured one plant last year, finally seeing one red flower and a hummingbird working over the bloom. This year I have dozens of red Bee Balm flowers. Norma Boeckler had one variety that grew so invasively that she ripped it all out. Bee Balm is also called Horse Mint.

Bamboo can either be stoloniferous or clumping. I suggested that our helper avoid both types, since pruning them usually requires a chainsaw. I speak from experience. A plant's virtue can soon become a nightmare.

Mountain Mint
I wanted to grow Mountain Mint ever since I saw a halo of insects buzzing around it at a government garden in Washington DC, when LI was first studying Latin, about 35 years ago. I said, "Mountain Mint. I must grow it some day."

As the readers might have guessed, Mountain Mint has a small but dedicated following. I already have five plants growing. One was buried by mulch when our helper decided it was a weed in the main rose garden. We searched for the tiny thing without finding it, but the plant popped up through newspapers and mulch - good news but possibly a warning as well.

If I plant some around the perimeter of the rose garden, I need to get the clumping variety. Here are two types of Mountain Mint, the ones most often sold. The Latin name Pycnanthemum means "densely flowered," which happens to be the type of flower favored by so many small insects.

  1. Pycnanthemum muticum (Michx.) Pers.– Short-toothed mountainmint - much of eastern US from east Texas to southern Maine.
  2. Pycnanthemum virginianum


Plant Delights says - 

The mint family genus Pycnanthemum is fairly small, containing around 20 species, all of which are native to North America. All of the mountain mints have a strong mint scent and are commonly used to make tea (all except Pycnanthemum muticum, which although minty is also toxic).

In the wild, Pycnanthemum thrives in woodlands with partial shade in a wide variety of soil types. It likes to have consistent water early on in the growing season but, as summer progresses, Pycnanthemum will become more drought-tolerant. In the garden, pycnanthemum is much more attractive in part to full sun. While most pycnanthemum are quite stoloniferous, we have selected only those that play well with others by not spreading uncontrollably.

Pycnanthemum sap is a natural insect repellent (especially the aforementioned Pycnanthemum muticum) and can be rubbed on the skin or stuffed into a pocket. While butterflies ignore the repellent leaves, they love to visit the flowers as do an incredible array of amazing insects. Deer do not like to eat Pycnanthemum...apparently, mint is not their thing.





Jessica Walliser, Attracting Beneficial Bugs, writes -

Mountain Mint
FAMILY Lamiaceae (mint) • perennial, USDA zones 3–9, depending on species • North American native • blooms in summer • 2–4 feet (0.6–1.25 m) high, 2–3 feet (0.6–1 m) wide 

About twenty species of mountain mint are native to North America, and several of them are threatened or endangered in one or more states. All but one species are native east of the Rocky Mountains, with Pycnanthemum californicum (Sierra mint) being the only native of the West. Within the genus are several species that I see as particularly valuable garden plants. Pycnanthemum virginianum (Virginia mountain mint) and P. tenuifolium (little-leaved or slender mountain mint) look fairly similar, with small awl-shaped leaves topped with clusters of white flowers with small purple specks. They are both magnets for good bugs, luring in natural enemies and pollinators of all sorts.

Walliser, Jessica. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control (Kindle Locations 2562-2573). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

Pycnanthemum muticum


Short-toothed mountain mint or clustered mountain mint

We give up! So many of you claimed this mountain mint to be superior toPycnanthemum virginianum that we decided to try it for ourselves. We love it! Its leaves are broader and more lustrous, the bracts are silvery and very showy, the flowers are pinkish and its habit is more compact. Nicely aromatic. This native is happiest at the wood's edge, so it is an excellent for a naturalized border or woodland garden. Mountain Mint is one of the best nectar sources for native butterflies, so butterfly gardeners can't do without this one. Our bees go crazy for it, too!

Mountain Mint is loaded with pulegone, the same insect repellent found in pennyroyal. It can be rubbed on the skin to repel mosquitoes!

Pycnanthemum muticum Growing and Maintenance Tips

A highly competitive workhorse for extreme sites and slopes, P. muticumdoes well in a variety of sites from full sun to shade and dry to moist conditions. Though not overly aggressive, it will spread via rhizomes, so give it room to grow.