Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Mountain Mint

I've been looking forward to writing about this plant all Summer!

This native mint never seems to get the attention it deserves, but today I'm going to try and give it justice.

Mountain Mint can be found in some form growing east of the Rockies, from Canada to Florida, and at least 20 species occur in North America.

Most of them grow quite tall, up to 6 feet, and have a stiff, woody stem.

Interestingly enough, it isn't named Mountain Mint because of its preferred habitat. 

Once the plant begins to bloom in mid-Summer, the upper leaves look as though they have been "frosted with a light dusting of snow," to quote Jan W. Midgley.

The toothed leaves are velvety soft and fuzzy to the touch.

The fragrance of Mountain Mint can vary, but is usually quite pungent. Our local variety has a very sweet, minty fragrance that I find irresistible.

The tiny flowers are gorgeous, usually appearing white and speckled with purple.

It typically begins to bloom sometime in July, and often continues blooming right up until the first frost.

The Mountain Mint genus is Pycnanthemum, which stems from the Greek words Pycno, meaning "thick" or "dense", and anthemom meaning "flower".

Individual species can be difficult to tell apart, but can sometimes be narrowed down based on their range and/or altitude.

Depending on the species, their soil preference ranges from wet to dry, and most are incredibly drought resistant.

There are 10 species of Mountain Mint found in Tennessee, but the one most commonly found in our area is P. incanum, also known as Hoary Mountain Mint.

It has slender, toothed leaves and rather loose flower heads, as well as that sweet, sweet minty fragrance that I find intoxicating.

It does really well in dry, rocky soil, but doesn't mind wet feet, either.

In fact, it's so adaptable in can grow in practically any soil - from sand to clay, acidic to alkaline.

Like anything in the mint family, it makes a nice cup or tea or food flavoring, albeit a little on the pungent side.

A tea brewed from the leaves was used by many Native American tribes as a cold and cough remedy, as well as a treatment for fevers, digestive troubles, sinus headaches, colic and heart issues.

A poultice was applied to help relieve headaches.

When it comes to your gardens, I can hardly recommend a better plant for your flowerbeds!

Out of all the dozens and dozens of native plants we selected for the park butterfly garden, this one has become my favorite, even over Purple Coneflower.

It has a very long blooming period, sometimes lasting as long as 4 months.

Unlike Wild Bergamot (Monarda fisulosa) and other Monardas, it is completely resistant to powdery mildew, or any other diseases that I'm aware of.

It isn't too picky about moisture levels in the soil, as long as you give it plenty of sun.

Hardly anything eats it - not deer, rabbits or insect pests.

It is fragrant and GORGEOUS!

It makes a nice stand alone specimen, but is especially attractive intermingled with Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

There is something about that cool, frosted green that sets off and compliments warmer flower colors,  beautifully.

Lastly, it is a pollinator-attractant extraordinaire!

Virtually every species of butterfly will visit it for nectar, as well as honeybees, bumble bees - well, really, bees of any kind, beneficial wasps, moths, beneficial flies, beetles, bee flies.... and the list goes on and on.

These are just a few pollinators I have recorded visiting my Mountain Mint:

Thread Waisted Wasp. These non-aggressive wasps are voracious predators of caterpillars and common crop pests.


Sweat Bee. Most of us only think of the little guys that like to land on us and sting us when we mash them, but there are 500 species in North America. All of them are important pollinators.

Yellow-collared Scape Moth. A diurnal (active during the day) moth that somewhat resembles a lightning bug.

Gray Hairstreak.

Potter Wasp. A solitary species that burrows in wooden cavities. The female stockpiles paralyzed caterpillars for her offspring, stuffing them into the cells. She then seals the opening with mud.

Hoary Edge, a type of Skipper.

Bumble Bee

Ailanthus Webworm moth, an exotic species imported from South America. 

Tachinid Fly. Rather alarming in size and appearance, but perfectly harmless; only feeding on nectar. Their larvae, however, are internal parasites of caterpillars, helping control species that are crop pests.

Silvery Checkerspot butterfly.

Another type of Bumble Bee - BIG sucker (need to learn my bumbles!).

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.

Spider Wasp. These large, non-social wasps are spider predators; paralyzing them and carrying them back to their burrows as food for their young.

Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly. (Notice the approaching toddler of doom.)

Little Glassywing (I think)

Carolina Satyr - not usually a nectar feeder.

This big fella is an Elephant Mosquito. Not all species are blood-suckers. In fact, their larvae feed on OTHER mosquito larvae, making them highly beneficial to humans! You can tell this is a male by its plumose (feathery) antennae, and that he is a nectar feeder by his curved proboscis.

Another type of grass skipper. These guys are hard to ID, even for the experts!

Another frequent visitor is the Ambush bug

They are not there for nectar, however, but for the pollinators themselves - mainly bees and flies.

I've seen many, many more species that I wasn't able to photograph - namely Flowerflies and Hoverflies, which are indispensable aphid predators as larvae.

What species of hoverfly is this? - Allograpta exotica
One particular butterfly Mountain Mint is supposed to attract is the Sleepy Orange which, ironically, I have yet to see.

Isn't it amazing the biodiversity triggered by a single plant species?

So if you're looking to increase the pollinator population in your yard, Mountain Mint is your go-to plant!

It isn't nearly as invasive as other mint species, although it won't mind taking over if you pamper it too much. I haven't even found it to be as aggressive as Wild Bergamot.

Wherever you live, you can find a Mountain Mint that will perform well for you. Most of the time, mainstream nurseries don't carry them, so you will have to find it online.

Prairie Moon Nursery carries Pycnanthemum seeds and seed mixes.

Mountain Mint is an amazing native plant in every way, and I think you need some in your own backyard! 

Your local pollinators will thank you for it!

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Thinleaf Coneflower

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Plants for a Future

All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley

Wildflowers of Tennessee - Jack. B. Carman

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart


  1. Fantastic photos. Thanks for sharing.


  2. I have never heard of Mountain Mint. I agree with fantastic photos. Congrats on being a featured post at Wildcrafting Wednesday,.

  3. Wow, I didn't even know this existed. Awesome!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope to see you again this week!