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Mountain Mint (What Time is it in Nature)

July 4, 2015

This summer has been an excellent one for insects at Prairie Ridge!  There are thousands of butterflies, grasshoppers, native bees, dragonflies, and other spectacular insects buzzing around the prairie.  Most of those insects need something to eat and many will make use of the nectar available at the flowering plants in our Nature Neighborhood Garden.  One plant species, Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum), seems to be an especially attractive option currently.

Mountain Mint

Photo by Chris Goforth

Mountain Mint, as the name suggests, belongs to the mint family of plants.  It grows 2-4 feet in height under good conditions and can spread to 4 feet wide.  The leaves are a dusky grey-green, football-shaped, and toothed.  Both the leaves and the stems of the plant have a softly hairy appearance, a characteristic which often gives this species the common name Hoary Mountain Mint.  It is found throughout the eastern US and southeastern Canada, though it is rare in some northern areas of its native range.

The insects making use of the plant don’t care so much about the leaves and stems however.  They are after the nectar given off by the flowers!  Mountain Mint typically blooms in June or July and remains in flower into September and attracts dozens of species of pollinators as long as the flowers are available.  Flowers are found in dense clusters at the tips of the stems.  The flowers themselves are tiny and white with small purple spots:

Mountain Mint flowers

Photo by Chris Goforth

Mountain Mint may not be the showiest garden plant available with its dusky green color and tiny flowers, but it is highly valued for its ability to attract a wide range of pollinators. It grows best in well-drained soils in full sun or partial shade and, like other mints, spreads aggressively via rhizomes underground. It can, however, sometimes grow well in suboptimal soil conditions and may grow where few other plants are able to establish themselves.

We have a great Mountain Mint specimen on display in our Nature Neighborhood Garden.  Next time you visit Prairie Ridge, wander down into the garden and head toward the back gate.  The loud buzzing will let you know when you’ve arrived at the Mountain Mint plant.  Look for more information about Mountain Mint’s many pollinators in our next What Time is it in Nature!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge EcostationFind out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

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