Monarda sp. (Bee balm)
Monarda didyma 'Jacob Cline'

Zone: 4 to 9

Soil: Sand to clay

Light: Full sun to part sun

Bloom colour: Red,pink, blue

Bloom period: mid-summer

Height: Up to 48 inches

Moisture: Usually moist to average

Attracts: Hummingbirds, butterflies and larger bees with long tongues


Bee balms and their related species produce concentrated nectar that is enjoyed by a lot of wildlife and they can look stunning when grown en masse due to their large flowerheads.  All flowers have relatively deep corollae so insects with long tongues are the beneficiaries.

The most common species sold in nurseries is Oswego bee balm, Monarda didyma, but if you are a native plant enthusiast, you have to be careful that you do not end up buying a hybridMonarda didyma is an essential plant for providing nectar  in early to mid-summer to hummingbirds who are attracted to the red flowers.  It prefers a soil that remains moist and it will not do well in a drought.  Too much sun burns the leaves, so it is better placed in the garden where there are a few hours of direct sunshine.

The drawback of this plant is that it spreads vigorously. You will have to spend a bit of time in spring pulling out the stems (stolons) that grow underneath the soil surface. The stolons are easy to remove and I do not use barriers for these plants. Avoid covering this plant with leaf mulch  in the fall as it retards its growth in the following spring.
bee balm and to some extent, Wild Bergamot, tends to suffer from mildew.  If you are finding this to be an issue then you can either plant it behind other plants to so that the foliage is less obvious or you can try obtaining a cultivar that is disease resistant. 

Jacob Cline is a wild strain selection that is both mildew resistant and is less affected by drought conditions. It is not a hybrid and fairly easy to obtain. This scarlet cultivar grows 40 inches high and blooms for 8 weeks. There are many bee balm cultivars, but many of them are hybrids of Monarda didyma with other species.  If those hybrids are sterile, they are safe to use and then you have to decide whether they are attractive to pollinators or not.  Monarda ‘Blue Stocking’ attracts many bees while the Monarda ‘Petite Delight’ attracts none.  In general, stick to cultivars that most resemble the original plant as they will have the most wildlife value. Many hybrids have a shorter corolla than Monarda didyma and are therefore more accessible to bees, but the quality and quantity of the nectar is likely to be altered and possibly not as good for hummingbirds.

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) usually has to be bought from a native plant supplier and it is found in drier soils than Monarda didyma. It is clump forming and flowers a little later than Monarda didyma. One specimen will form a decent sized 3-4 feet patch to attract pollinators and will grow about 4 feet high. Like Monarda didyma, its leaves tend to wither during the latter part of the summer and it is best to plant this behind other plants. It is far more attractive to bees and butterflies than Monarda didyma although its bloom time is shorter. Swallowtail butterflies, in particular, enjoy nectaring on Wild Bergamot. This plant is also more recommended than Monarda didyma in situations where water is an issue such as in rain-fed gardens and sandy soils.

If you are planting Wild Bergamot in sandy soil, it will still need extra watering when drought conditions are present. If you want a species that can really tolerate dry soils, then consider Monarda punctata (Spotted Bee Balm), which thrives in the hottest, driest and sandiest part of my garden. It grows between 2-3 feet high and would do well in the middle of a border. It flowers after Monarda fistulosa in August. Specimens are short lived and do not take up much space. To obtain a big enough patch to attract pollinators, plant at least 5 specimens about 12 inches apart. This plant will reseed itself easily to form a large patch the following year. Compared to moisture-loving bee balms, its flowerheads are smaller and less impressive. However, the lower leaves do not drop off and the flowerheads are enhanced by large creamy bracts that make it a fabulous garden plant. Monarda punctata is particularly attractive to beneficial wasps. and has a nototribic flower structure that is especially adapted for them.

Monarda citriodora, resembles Monarda punctata until it shows off its larger lavender flowers. It is a native of the southern United States, east of the Rockies and can be grown as an annual in Canada. It also grows to just over 2 feet (60 cm) and takes dry soil well. It flowers from August onwards and is a good plant for migrating  Monarchs if you live down south. The Monarda species native to Ontario are better plants for pollinators.

Another species worth considering is Monarda bradburiana, which is native to the Midwest. It grows to less than 18 inches high and completes flowering before any of the native species have even started. While it only flowers for a few weeks in late spring, it remains a beautiful plant with almost burgundy leaves and it is a great nectar source for queen bumblebees. It does well in light shade and dryish soil, and it combines well with Downy Wood Mint.  It will grow in full sun, but the foliage will not look so nice.

Species native to Ontario include:

Monarda didyma (good for hummers)

Monarda fistulosa (good for butterflies)

Monarda media

Monarda punctata (good for beneficial wasps)


Monarda didyma 'Jacob Cline'
Monarda 'Jacob Kline"
Monarda didyma 'Jacob Kline"
Corolla of species vs hybrid
Hybrids have a shorter corolla than the species.
Blue stocking beeblam
Monarda 'Blue Stocking'
Bee balm petitie delight
Monarda 'Petite Delight'
Monarda fistulosa
Monarda fistulosa - Wild Bergamot
Monarda with spicebush swallowtail
Monarda fistulosa with a Spicebush Swallowtail
Monarda with Eastern tiger swallowtail
Monarda fistulosa with an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Monarda punctata
A mass of Spotted bee balm will contrast nicely with plants that have larger flowers.
Monarda punctata
Monarda punctata - Spotted bee balm
Monarda being pollinated by Polistes sp.
The anthers of Monarda punctata are located on the top part of the flower and as this wasp reaches for the nectar, the hairs on the top of its thorax are brushed by the anthers.
Monarda citriodora
Monarda citriodora with Red Admiral
Monarda didyma with giant swallowtail Monarda bradburiana
Monarda bradburiana
Monarda with Silver Spotted Skipper

While Monarda fistulosa is overall a better plant for butterflies, large butterflies such as a giant swallowtail have a proboscis long enough to nectar from Monarda didyma.

Wild Bergamot with Siver Spotted Skipper
Monarda fistulosa with various swallowtails
Monarda fistulosa can grow in large swathes in the wild and they attract large numbers of butterflies.