Spotted Beebalm, Spotted Horsemint
Lamiaceae, Mint Family
No doubt many wildflower and garden-flower enthusiasts with northern roots had their first native Monarda experience with the attention scarlet Oswego-Tea (Monarda didyma) and with the violet-purplish Wild-Bergamot (M. fistulosa). The ruling species around here is the Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), which ranges into the northern states, including as a prairie flower. (For the sake of completeness, another Florida species north of our stomping grounds is Lemon Beebalm, Monarda citriodora.)
Spotted Beebalm is a one-plant flower show with rich purple bracts, purple-tinged calyx, and purple-spotted two-lipped white to slightly yellow corollas with gaping mouths. This could be taken as a classroom example of a bee-pollinated flower, with a horizontal landing platform grooved with a debatable nectar guide, and with all those irresistible purple polka dots. And bees do arrive aplenty. Many species. Butterflies show up too. The more the merrier. Spotted Beebalm is living testimony to wasps as floral visitors too.
Wasp-pollination is mildly surprising, because wasps are generally carnivores at heart, and are known to visit flowers as hunting grounds for buggish prey. Maybe that was the original reason for wasp-flower visits. In any case, some wasps extract pollen and nectar nutritionally, obviously spreading pollen in the process. CLICK
Look closely at the photo. As with most two-lipped flowers, the stigma (pollen-receiver) and anthers (pollen-makers) are pressed up to the top of the inside of the floral tube (the roof of the mouth). That way, bees pushing into the tube brush past the stigma, dropping off pollen, and past the anthers, receiving pollen. Monardas characteristically have wide-spreading anthers, and are split into two subgroups of species, divided over whether the anthers and stigmas are shorter than the tube, or jut out from it.
Now comes a little speculation: Broaden the view a moment, say, to Orchids, the most diverse plant family. Orchids have intricate pollination mechanisms tending to correspond to individual pollinator species. Many members of the Mint Family likewise have complex systems involving levers and mousetraps apparently to interface with narrow ranges of bee species. But Monardas seem (repeat: seem!) to have comparatively simple systems by mint standards not particularly specialized for anybody, and thus open to the plenteous biodiversity drawn to the blossoms. Their specialty seems to be splashy billboard advertising rather than a niche market. Beebalms are the Yeehaw Junction of the wildflower world.
Clumped in a naturalistic garden, Spotted Beebalm has pros and cons. It is an occasional component in the sunnier gardens on the Palm Beach State College campus. When in full glorious bloom, Spotted Beebalm earns ooohs and ahhhs from passers-by. But glory is fleeting, and when not in flower the plants are far less attractive, and not durable. Is the plant a perennial or an annual? Yes. The individual stems decline post-flowering and look crummy. The plants re-seed, which is good or bad depending on your standpoint. Flowering time is hurricane-time, late summer, early fall. (This post is a collaborative effort by John Bradford and George Rogers. John took the photo.)