A Polka Dotted Pollinator Powerhouse

Dotted Horsemint
Mondarda punctata

The Kitchen Garden is filled with plenty of plant treasures. While this is a late summer bloomer, we are starting to see some new blooms on the plants located near Kitchen Garden herb border.

Dotted Horsemint (Mondarda punctata) is a late summer blooming, herbaceous perennial native to eastern North America. The species occurs in all but the southernmost counties in Florida, north into Canada and west to Minnesota and Texas. Plants reach three feet and produce numerous stems terminated by neatly spaced floral whorls. Each whorl is subtended by colorful leafy bracts that range in color from lavender to pink and features purple-spotted, light pink flowers.

These watercolor-painted petals peek through the leafy bracts, making a wonderful color combination that will last for weeks. Dotted horsemint is a tough, vigorous grower that blooms prolifically and attracts pollinators by the dozens.

Dotted horsemint is the equivalent of a juice bar at the gym for nectar loving/needing insects! Flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, miner bees and plasterer bees, as well as several butterflies including the swallowtail and the endangered Kramer blue butterfly (Lycaenides melissa samuelis). Hummingbirds are known to frequent the plant, which also produces a strong (and somewhat pleasing) odor when the leaves are crushed or bruised. The volatile chemical responsible for this aroma is thymol, which also gives common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) its characteristic flavor. Thymol has long been used as an antiseptic but also serves as a great mosquito repellant, and is used to kill varroa mites, which have been linked to colony collapse disorder in honeybees.

Like many other members of the mint family, dotted horsemint is edible and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and are sometimes added to salads or used to make tea. Plants thrive in sunny, well-drained sites but will tolerate moist garden spots, as well. So if you’re tired of convincing those boring-looking Mediterranean herbs to love Florida’s climate and soil, substitute the gorgeous, easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant, dotted horsemint. The taste is the same; plus you and the insects will be much happier.

Blog was written by Patrick Lynch, Plant Records Coordinator, and photographed by Erica Smith, Director of Marketing.