Wildflower Wednesday: common mountain mint

Sphex ichneumoneus, Great Golden Digger Wasp, says come on in.

If you want to be invited to a pollinator keg party, just plant one of the many mountain mints and stand back for the show.

A few years ago, while visiting the Ponca City Herb Festival, I purchased several native plants including, Pycnanthemum virginianum (common mountain mint) from Wild Things Nursery. If you’ve never purchased from Wild Things, you’re missing out on a great Oklahoma, native plant source.

Five Banded Tiphiid Wasp, Myzinum quinquecinctum. If you count, you'll see it has more than five bands. The term refers to the five bands on the underside of the female's abdomen. This is probably a male which has six.

Virginia or common mountain mint is one of the most perplexing plants I grow. In decent soil with normal irrigation, this native wants to conquer an entire corner of the garden in partial shade. I shouldn’t be surprised. It is from the Lamiaceae or mint family. It spreads by seed (although I’ve never noticed it moving to any other bed in the garden) and by creeping underground stems.

Those underground stems get ya every time.

Each spring, I pull up great hunks of this mint to keep it from strangling its neighbors, but I’ll always have it in the garden. P. virginianum is a pollinator magnet extraordinaire abuzz with winged insects of all stripes. Plus, it can be used as a culinary herb with a taste between mint and oregano, the same scent you get when you crush its leaves.

Mountain mint with Double Banded Scoliid Wasp (Scolia bicincta) and Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus). The GBW is probably one of the smaller males. GBWs have the most exquisite blue-black wings.

Although its botanical name tells you it was first found in Virginia, this mint inhabits dappled woods and open fields throughout the northeastern United States and as far south as Oklahoma and Georgia.

Common mountain mint is related to several other mints including: P. tenuifolium (slender or narrow-leaf, mountain mint), P. muticum (short-toothed mountain mint), P. pilosum (hairy mountain mint) and P. torreyi (Torrey’s mountain mint). I only have the common variety and don’t think I could incorporate another native mint in my garden.

Isodontia auripes, Brown-legged Grass-Carrying Wasp

Although several books and other sources state it should be grown in full sun, I find it does just as well in dappled shade although it does want to lie prostrate on the ground at times. In spite of our drought and continuing heat (yesterday was 105.1F at my house as is today), CMM does extremely well and is giving the pollinators a sipping break along their way. Although the entire plant is full of insects, not one tries to bother me as I take a photo. They are all too busy drinking the nectar which becomes their lifeblood in our harsh climate.

Probably Ammophila nigricans (Black Thread Waist Wasp.) You can tell how tiny it is because mint's flower heads are only 3/4 inch across.

Many thanks to Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, by C. Colston Burrell which contained great information on several different varieties of native mints. Also, thanks to the following websites which helped me identify certain pollinating insects: What’s That Bug?, Polizinador’s BlogMO Bugs, Galveston County Master Gardeners’ Beneficial Insect List, and Field Station from the University of Wisconsin.

I guess Gail from Clay and Limestone who puts on Wildflower Wednesday and I aren’t the only ones who enjoy pointing our cameras at insects.


  1. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com says:

    Ha! As I suspected, oregano IS in the mint family! Who knew??

  2. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com says:

    Wow, Dee. I’m astounded at all the wasps you have in Oklahoma! I have never seen a single one of those wasps in my garden! I only have yellow jackets. I haven’t even seen a paperwasp this year. I do have dragonflies and tons of bees, which, interestingly, are living in my abundant oregano at the moment in bulk, which looks ever so much like the blossoming mint you are here showcasing. Must google oregano! Thanks for the wasp tour!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      We have more bugs in Oklahoma than you can shake a stick at. Yes, oregano can also be quite the thug where I live. I once dug a huge clump of it out of my garden. Now, I grow it in pots here. Mints are great until, well, they’re not. I loved your musings on this wonderful group of plants.

  3. I also grow this mint as well as the broad leafed mountian mint. I also take pix of insects. They are even more intriguing close up!

  4. Diane says:

    The very reason I planted mountain mint is for the insects. My mountain mint is visited by more different insects than any other plants I own. I absolutely love the metallic insects: gold ones, blue ones, silver ones, etc. I love insects so much that folks bring me dead bugs and I make special boxes in which to keep them. The grandchildren and I spend hours discussing the insects’ different parts and how they use them for flying, boring, pollination, etc. I’ve never met an insect I didn’t love.

    Thanks for the pictures and information about mountain mint.

    Diane in North Carolina

  5. Rebecca says:

    I love it!! A different wasp in every photo! Thanks for sharing your photos–I will now be using this post when I need to ID a wasp 🙂

  6. commonweeder says:

    I can tell you that I have half a field of spearmint. The other half is Tansy. And goldenrod.

  7. Rose says:

    The mint is lovely, Dee, and your photos say it all about its attraction to the pollinators. Thanks so much for taking the time to i.d. the wasps–you’ve helped me to finally i.d. an insect I’ve often seen in my garden, the Great Black Wasp. I’ve always thought they were so pretty with those blue-black wings.

  8. Greggo says:

    I lived in Ponca recently. Sorry I missed the festival. Probably working. Cool front coming. Yes.

  9. Love the mint and the wasps.

  10. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I love mint and insects Dee. No, we are not the only ones. Bugs are of great interest to many people. It is fun to know who you share your world with. I have mint in a couple of places. It is always fun to weed around it. It smells so good. I hope you get a cool-down. We are having very similar weather. Not quite as hot 98 but the heat index is up there. Whew, will we survive??

  11. Gail says:

    Dee, The P muticum that I have in the Garden of Benign Neglect is living despite the drought~as is the P tenuifolium. One is planted in shade and the other in semi-shade. It’s a marvelous plant and like you I will always find a space for it. There’s something very satisfying when I see pollinators flocking to native plants and I have to capture their photos. Your wasps are beautiful critters. gail

    1. Dear Dee, Your mountain mint almost makes me want to move from my mountains to yours! (almost) Wonderful photos! P. x

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