OSWEGO TEA BEE BALM INDIAN'S PLUME FRAGRANT BALM MOUNTAIN
(Monarda didyma) Mint family
Flowers - Scarlet, clustered in a solitary, terminal, rounded
head of dark-red calices, with leafy bracts below it. Calyx
narrow, tubular, sharply 5-toothed; corolla tubular, widest at
the mouth, 2-lipped, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long; 2
anther-bearing stamens ascending, protruding; 1 pistil; the style
2-cleft. Stem: 2 to 3 ft. tall. Leaves: Aromatic, opposite, dark
green, oval to oblong lance-shaped, sharply saw-edged, often
hairy beneath, petioled; upper leaves and bracts often red.
Preferred Habitat - Moist soil, especially near streams, in hilly
or mountainous regions.
Flowering Season - July-September.
Distribution - Canada to Georgia, west to Michigan.
Gorgeous, glowing scarlet heads of bee balm arrest the dullest
eye, bracts and upper leaves often taking on blood-red color,
too, as if it had dripped from the lacerated flowers. Where their
vivid doubles are reflected in a shadowy mountain stream, not
even the cardinal flower is more strikingly beautiful. Thrifty
clumps transplanted from Nature's garden will spread about ours
and add a splendor like the flowers of salvia, next of kin, if
only the roots get a frequent soaking.
With even longer flower tubes than the wild bergamot's (q.v.),
the bee balm belies its name, for, however frequently bees may
come about for nectar when it rises high, only long-tongued
bumblebees could get enough to compensate for their trouble.
Butterflies, which suck with their wings in motion plumb the
depths. The ruby-throated hummingbird - to which the Brazilian
salvia of our gardens has adapted itself - flashes about these
whorls of Indian plumes just as frequently - of course
transferring pollen on his needle-like bill as he darts from
flower to flower. Even the protruding stamens and pistil take on
the prevailing hue. Most of the small, blue or purple flowered
members of the mint family cater to bees by wearing their
favorite color; the bergamot charms butterflies with magenta, and
tubes so deep the short-tongued mob cannot pilfer their sweets;
and from the frequency of the hummingbird's visits, from the
greater depth of the bee balm's tubes and their brilliant,
flaring red - an irresistibly attractive color to the ruby-throat
- it would appear that this is a bird flower. Certainly its
adaptation is quite as perfect as the salvia's. Mischievous bees
and wasps steal nectar they cannot reach legitimately through
bungholes of their own making in the bottom of the slender casks.
"This species," says Mr. Ellwanger, "is said to give a decoction
but little inferior to the true tea, and was largely used as a
substitute" by the Indians and the colonists, who learned from
them how to brew it.
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