A Gardening Journal
Good Together: Pollinators & Short-toothed Mountain Mint
- Published: August 24 2016
Mountain mint belongs in Summer gardens, and not just because its silvery bracts are showy from July through September. The heads of tiny flowers are such a favorite of bees that, at first, it seems that the colony is shimmering.
Rather, countless insects are in motion, scrambling atop each flowerhead as well as flitting from one to the next. Their wings set air in motion, plus they land and take off in haste. The collective force flexes the flowerheads back and forth on their supporting stems. The colony is vibrating!
Butterflies are reported to favor Pycnanthemum muticum as well but, during the daytime, my colonies seem to attract only bees by the score. Their foraging is so jerky, speedy, and high-energy that it seems manic. By comparison, even fast-moving butterflies are slow and stately. Would they be leery of landing? I'd be if I were one: Enormous fragile butterfly wings could be poked and even snapped by the bulky darting bees.
There must be a limit to how many insects can visit the colony at once, like the crowd capacity for a given rock concert venue. Only so many individuals can be jumping up and down for joy before someone else gets trampled. Butterflies may be able to visit safely only during the early morning and the evening, when lower temperatures have slowed the bees down. At night, both bees and butterflies are asleep. Do moths then take over the stage? Mountain mint flowerheads are in active bloom for many weeks, so the pollen and nectar are there for the taking.
I'll do stake-outs at various times of the day and into dusk to check which pollinators include mountain mint in their foraging and when.
Here's how to grow a cousin of short-toothed mountain mint. Virginia mountain mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum, also has a pair of bracts that flank each of its flower clusters, but they are smaller in size and more subtle in appearance. In Winter, the bracts fall away but the flowerheads remain, bringing a subtle elegance to the garden and to dried arrangements. The hardiness, appeal to pollinators, cultural needs, and handling of Pycnanthemum virginianum are all similar to those of P. muticum.
Here's a terrific contrast for short-toothed mountain mint: purple-leaved ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Summer Wine'.