Wildflower Wednesday: Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot


Common Name: Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot

Scientific Name: Monarda fistulosa

Habitat & Range: dry, sunny fields and roadsides

Bloom Time: summer

About: Do you like Earl Grey tea? The distinctive taste comes from Oil of Bergamot, derived from this native wildflower. If you like growing native plants for tea, this is a must-have. A part of the mint family, tea made from the leaves of Wild Bergamot is supposed to aid in digestion and treat respiratory problems (just like mint tea). Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love these flowers, but beware that it is a fairly aggressive spreader–great if you’ve got a large butterfly garden, but it may take over less pushy plants in a cottage garden. I have both the wild version and a showier cultivar (below) with bigger leaves and big, fuchsia flowers, but less of that essential oil you want for your tea. It is definitely taking over its spot in the garden. In fact, the species and the cultivar apparently cross-pollinated last year and this year I had a deeper purple plant as well. I’ll have move my poor crowded coneflowers elsewhere as I love these flowers that bloom when a lot of other stuff in the garden is looking kind of ragged from the summer heat. They are completely carefree practically the moment you put them in the ground.


Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

Wildflower Wednesday: Butterfly Weed


Common Name: Butterfly Weed

Scientific Name: Asclepias tuberosa

Habitat & Range: dry soil, full sun, prairies and meadows

Bloom Time: summer

About: How about some more flowers that will attract butterflies and other pollinators? Butterfly Weed is a compact, lower growing perennial wildflower that can be purchased at a good nursery or easily seeded. It is better for attracting butterflies to smaller yards than big, sprawling plants like Milkweed or Joe-pye Weed (though it is a milkweed and thus still host to Monarchs and also to Gray Hairstreaks). And it’s orange, not all that common in wildflowers, which tend toward begin white, yellow, or purplish.

I have a specimen in my garden (originally purchased at, you guessed it, a native plant sale) that has been slowly growing in circumference for years. And I occasionally find volunteers pop up in other parts of the garden, which can easily be pulled or replanted elsewhere (if you catch them early; the long taproot this plant develops makes transplanting difficult once a plant is established). It is great in full sun and dry soil, so you can position in some of the most harsh spots in your garden, along with your Sedum and other tough plants. It can be found growing wild throughout the Lower Peninsula.

Here’s some on Mackinac Island:


Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

Wildflower Wednesday: Joe-pye Weed

Joe-pye weed

Common Name: Joe-pye Weed

Scientific Name: variously Eupatorium maculatum and Eutrochium maculatum (depending on the source)

Habitat & Range: wet, full sun meadows and along streams and lakes

Bloom Time: summer

About: A tall perennial you can get at most nurseries or native plant sales, this may look like a milkweed, but it is in fact part of the aster family. If you have a pond on your property, this is a perfect plant to edge it. It’s tall (some varieties can reach 10 feet!) so use it as a backdrop to smaller plants in your native or cottage garden. Even though it likes moist soil, its extensive root system means it will tolerate drought. It’s not too picky. Other pluses: it attracts butterflies and deer don’t like to eat it.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

(also Better Homes & Gardens online plant encyclopedia)

Wildflower Wednesday: Swamp Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed

Common Name: Swamp Milkweed

Scientific Name: Asclepias incarnata

Habitat & Range: wet meadows, swamps, streams, lakesides

Bloom Time: summer

About: Host to the Monarch butterfly (along with Common Milkweed, which can be distinguished from its more delicate cousin by its much larger leaves and duller flowers), this is perfect for your butterfly garden if you’ve got some consistently wet spots on your property. I tried them (purchased from a native plant sale, not taken from the wild) in an area of my yard that is often soggy in springtime, but the summer sun dries out my soil too much and there’s too much shade there, so they never took.

This photo (like those of the Boneset a couple weeks ago) was taken along the shore of Lake Louise (properly Thumb Lake) in the northern Lower Peninsula, but this plant can be found throughout the state.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000