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wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)


wild bergamot


SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for Monarda fistulosa.


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for wild bergamot is Monarda fistulosa L.


The PLANTS Database recognizes five additional subspecies/varieties other than the typical Monarda fistulosa ssp. fistulosa var. fistulosa. For the Nature Guide, the typical subspecies/variety will be used.


NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.




Habit: Wild bergamot is a perennial plant, 2½–4' tall, branching frequently in the upper half. The light green stems are four-angled and hairless.


Leaves: The opposite leaves are broadly lanceolate to ovate, and vary in color from light green to dark green, sometimes with yellow or red tints. These color variations are in part a response to environmental conditions. The hairless leaves are up to 4" long and 2" across, and have serrated margins. They exude an oregano scent.


Flowers: At the top of major stems are rounded heads of flowers about 1-3" across. The flowers begin blooming in the center of the head, gradually moving toward its periphery, forming a wreath of flowers. Each flower is lavender or pink, and about 1" long, with an irregular shape. The corolla divides into a tubular upper lip with projecting stamens, and three slender lower lips that function as landing pads for visiting insects.


Fruit/seeds: Wild bergamot seeds are spread by a variety of pollinators.


Roots: The root system consists of deep, strongly branched roots, and shallow rhizomes that are responsible for the vegetative spread of the plant. These rhizomes typically send up multiple leafy stems in a tight cluster, giving wild bergamot a bushy appearance.


REGENERATION PROCESS: Wild bergamot propogates itself by reseeding and vegetative spread through rhizomes.


HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include moist to slightly dry black soil prairies, hill prairies, sandy Black Oak woodlands, savannas and woodland borders, thickets, borders of limestone glades, abandoned pastures, and landfills. The rhizomes can survive earth-moving and bulldozing operations, and send up plants in unexpected places.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Wild bergamot prefers full or partial sun, and moist to slightly dry conditions. Growth is more luxuriant in a moist rich loam. Under drought conditions, the lower leaves will turn yellow and drop off the stems; this reaction is normal. The lower leaves often develop powdery mildew, particularly when the weather is rainy.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs during mid-summer and lasts about 1 month.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Wild bergamot is found throughout North America (possibly excepting Florida and California, and the Canadian Maritime provinces).




IMPORTANCES AND USES: The nectar of the flowers attracts long-tongued bees, bee flies, butterflies, skippers, and hummingbird moths. Among the long-tongued bees, are such visitors as bumblebees, Miner bees, Epeoline Cuckoo bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees. A small black bee (Dufourea monardae) specializes in the pollination of Monarda flowers. Sometimes Halictid bees collect pollen, while some wasps steal nectar by perforating the nectar tube. The ruby-throated hummingbird also visits the flowers. The caterpillars of the moths Sphinx eremitus (hermit sphinx) and Agriopodes teratophora (gray marvel) feed on the foliage. A seed bug (Ortholomus scolopax) is sometimes found in the flowerheads. Mammalian herbivores usually avoid this plant as a food source, probably because of the oregano-mint flavor of the leaves and their capacity to cause indigestion; they may contain chemicals that disrupt populations of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.


The Tewa Indians because of the flavor it imparted cooked wild bergamot with meat.  The Iroquois used the plant in the making of a beverage.  The plant has a wide variety of medicinal uses.  The Ojibwe put a wad of chewed leaves of this plant into their nostrils to relieve headache.  The tops of the plant were dried and used as a sternutatory for the relief of colds.  The leaves were placed in warm water baths for babies.  The Flambeau Ojibwe gathered and dried the whole plant, boiling it in a vessel to obtain the volatile oil to inhale to cure catarrh and bronchial affections.  The Menomini also used this plant as a remedy for catarrh, steeping the leaves and inflorescences in a tea.  The Meskwaki used this plant in combination with other plants to relieve colds.  The Hocak (Winnebago) used wild bergamot in their sweat bath and inhaled the fumes to cure colds.  A decoction of boiled leaves was used as a cure for eruptions on the face.  The Cherokee made a warm poultice of the plant to relieve a headache.  The Teton Dakota boiled together the leaves and flowers as a cure for abdominal pains.  The Blackfoot made a tea from the blossoms and leaves to cure stomach pains.  They also applied boiled leaves to the pustules of acne.  The Tewa dried the plant and ground it into a powder that was rubbed over the head to cure headaches, over the body to cure fever, and as a remedy for sore eyes and colds.  Early white settlers used it as a diaphoretic and carminative, and occasionally employed it for the relief of flatulent colic, nausea and vomiting.




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