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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Blog, MO 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.