An Inch-by-Inch Decoration Feat

Spotted horsemint and bees

Spotted horsemint and pollinators. Note that the top carpenter bee is being stroked on the back by the anthers of the flower.

Just about now, when people are removing their holiday decorations, let’s talk about a decoration feat I discovered last fall.  I have some exuberant stands of the native dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) in my yard. It’s a tall mint with a wonderfully complex tower of flower heads. The flowers themselves are pale yellow dotted with dark pink spots and are surrounded by pale to dark pink bracts. The bees and other pollinators go crazy when they open.

Like most mints, when you crush the leaves they release an odor, but this species has leaves that contain a thymol, the same oil as found in those savory Mediterranean herbs, oregano and thyme. It’s native to much of North America, including all but the southernmost tip of Florida, so American herb gardeners might consider adding this “horse of a different color” (but the same flavor) to their herb gardens. It’s drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant, and will grow in poor sandy soils, so what could be easier? Oh yes, it also self seeds, so you can share with your friends and neighbors.

Decorated caterpillar

A well-diguised caterpillar on the spotted horsemint.

The Decoration Feat

Since it’s a true mint, I decided to root some of the stems in water. I placed this beautiful bouquet on my desk so I could enjoy the flowers while I waited for the rooting to begin. As is often the case, my eyes wandered away from the computer screen, and as I gazed at the lovely flowers a couple of days later, something moved. I couldn’t see anything that didn’t look like the flower itself. I have a glass-topped desk and I noticed a collection of black dots on the desk under the flowers. I knew something was there, but what?

Decorated looper

Southern Emerald Moth (Synchlora frondaria) decorates itself with pieces of the flower.

After some online sleuthing I decided that this was a camouflaged looper, the larval stage of an emerald moth. The larvae of this genus are inchworms that adorn themselves with bits of flowers for camouflage. The wavy-lined emerald moth does not occur in Florida, so it is probably a Southern Emerald Moth (Synchlora frondaria), but a solid identification can only be made by looking at the adult moth. I placed the bouquet out on the back screen porch hoping to see the moth, but I never saw an adult moth. Also, the mint never rooted—I guess it was too late in the season.  Maybe next year… the gardener’s perennial promise.

Isn’t Mother Nature Amazing? Happy New Year, and make a resolution to better enjoy her wonders in 2012 and beyond.

decorated inch worm

Here you can see that this caterpillar is really an inch worm or looper.

Resources:

Read more about the moth here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/21305

For more details on the dotted horsemint read my post over on the Florida Native Plant Society blog: http://fnpsblog.blogspot.com/2011/10/dotted-horsemint-appreciation.html

© 2012, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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    About Ginny Stibolt

    Ginny Stibolt, a naturalist with a master's degree in botany, lives in Green Cove Springs in northern Florida.  She's written a book, Sustainable Gardening for Florida published by University Press of Florida.  Her website, Transplanted Gardener contains a six-year log of Florida gardening, nearly 100 articles, and links to more than 100 podcasts about gardening in Florida.  She's an active member of the Florida Native Plant Society and is one of the primary FNPS bloggers.  She is also an active member of the Lawn Reform Coalition.

    Comments

    1. julianna says:

      that is so beautiful! especially a thrill as dotted horsemint is on my list for planting in the spring. i tried to grow it from seeds last year with no luck, i think it is quite beautiful. have you read douglas tallamys book? lots of photos of interesting looking caterpillars in it too. cheers!

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Julianna, You might want to plant the seeds now. Thats what I did last year. I harvested seed from the plants, sowed them in a shallow wide pot filled with compost, covered them with a fine layer of compost, and then topped them with a layer of pine needles. I let the pot sit out with very little attention over the winter and voilalots of seedlings in the spring.
        Good luckits a beautiful plant and it attracts tons of insects, plus hummingbirds.

        Reply
        • julianna says:

          wow, i would never have guessed that will have to order some more seeds pronto, thanks!

          Reply
    2. Nanette says:

      Ginny:

      I have grown to adore horsemint and will be expandingn my use of this plant in one of my plant beds this year. Like muhly grass, it is one of those plants that are rather inconspicuous until they bloom, but when they do they are absolute showstoppers! Thanks for a very informative post.

      Reply
      • julianna says:

        muhly is on my list too! how did it grow for you? were in zone 5-6, depending on where in the yard.

        Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Thanks Nanette. So true.

        Reply
    3. Julie Stone says:

      Ive got to give Horsemint a try, I have a dry spot under a pine tree where things dont grow well and I desperately want to have some pollinator friendly plants there. It sounds like a really neat plant!

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        As long as there is some sun, it should be fine.

        Reply
    4. Donna@ Gardens Eye View says:

      Ginny I am a big fan of monarda but had not tried this one yetit is now on the listI want to try it in a few areas of the garden and in the meadow as well
      Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..Gardens Eye Verse-January

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Hi Donna, I think youll like it. Its not as prone to fungal infections as the others areat least here in Florida.

        Reply
    5. Sue Sweeney says:

      Ginny wonderfully uplifting article, as always. BTW: a trick for getting cuttings to root: most willow (Salix) is incredibly high in rooting hormone, so when Ive got cuttings, I also add a cutting from a pussy willow or black willow (the willows I have at hand), and often get a rooted willow cutting to plant somewhere as well as the cuttings I wanted. Doesnt always work if the plants totally out of its growth phase but much better than the commercial root hormones, IMHO

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Hey, Sue. Thanks for the rooting tip. It feels like Connecticut down here22 degrees this morning. Brrr

        Reply
      • Gaia Gardener says:

        Wonderful tip on adding a willow cutting to other cuttings to increase rooting. I have quite a few black willows and will definitely give it a try. Incidentally, I wouldnt mind if the black willow cuttings rooted too! I think they are wonderful trees!
        Gaia Gardener recently posted..It Certainly Didnt Play Possum!

        Reply
    6. Gloria says:

      Good morning this brand new year. Good information, sleuthing in the garden uncovers so much fun information. Camouflaged youngsters and flaunting adults seeking mates, always some drama in hood.
      Gloria recently posted..Save Starved Rock

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Yep, its always interesting. Mother Nature sure has an interesting sense of humor.

        Reply
    7. Heather says:

      Ginny,
      I saw these loopers for the first time this year on my horsemint which Ive had for 4 or 5 years in the garden. They seem (not sure though) to have a sticky substance that helps pick up the flower bits for better camouflaging. Great post.
      Heather
      Heather recently posted..Anise Scented Hyssop ~ Agastache foeniculum

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Heather, those loopers might have been there for years without your seeing them. ;-)

        Reply
    8. Vincent Vizachero says:

      I just discovered Monarda punctata this year, and absolutely love it! Thanks for a great post.

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Yes, its a fairly recent addition to my yard as well. I bought two plants at a Florida Native Plant Society function and now I have many including those two orginal plants that I could divide at some point. Theyve done very well.

        Reply
    9. Elizabeth Smith says:

      I enjoyed reading this I used to have horsemint under a slash pine. It did so well and then vanishednot sure what happened as I am a sporadic gardener. They are really beautiful plants, and attracted lots of pollinators as you noted. I love the photo of the camouflaged looper!
      Elizabeth Smith recently posted..Ibis at Rookery Bay

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Thanks Elizabeth. Maybe its time to replantNo??

        Reply
    10. Hal Mann says:

      Great info Ginny. Thanks. Dotted Horsemint is an endangered plant here in Northwest Ohio. I managed to snag a couple of small plants last year. I hope they do well. I didnt know cuttings would root in a vase of water. Ive got to try that.
      Hal Mann recently posted..Reflections and Anticipation

      Reply
    11. Ginny Stibolt says:

      Hal, root them early in the season before they bloom for the best results. Good luck.

      Reply
      • Hal Mann says:

        Thanks Ginny Ill give it a shot this spring.
        Hal Mann recently posted..Reflections and Anticipation

        Reply
    12. Carol Duke says:

      What a fun surprise Ginny! I love the flowers . . . they always remind me of court jesters. Super plant! Super post! Happy New Year!
      Carol Duke recently posted..A Day In The Clouds Sunrise Sky Second Day of 2012

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Yep, court jesters makes sense.

        Reply
    13. Kathy @nativegardener says:

      How fun! Glad you uncovered those decorating demons! The horsemint looks very pretty, still I have doubts that it would like So Cal. I am guessing too dry.
      Kathy @nativegardener recently posted..Top 5 Favorite Posts from 2011

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Kathy, it does occur in California and Ive seen it growing naturally on sand dunes. So maybe

        Reply
    14. Gaia Gardener says:

      Thanks for a wonderful post! I love Monarda punctata, but havent tried to grow it yet in my garden here in south central Kansas. Its definitely going to be on my list for next summer. (And the flower spikes always remind me of Dr. Seuss plants!)
      Gaia Gardener recently posted..It Certainly Didnt Play Possum!

      Reply
      • Ginny Stibolt says:

        Sure, I can see Dr. Zeuss creating flowers like these thinking that Mother Nature would not be this exuberant! :-)

        Reply
    15. Loret says:

      I had someone tell me that I didnt want Horsemint in my gardenit would take over. With that in mind, I headed right out and got some at my local native plant nursery ;)

      The emerald caterpillars certainly are fascinating. great picture you got there Ginny! First I ever saw one was when a flower moved on my bidens alba. Now youve got me stoked to watch the horsemint this year!
      Loret recently posted..Happy Holidays

      Reply

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