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.
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?
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.
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
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