The native Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum, below) is the busiest plant in the garden. Not only for a few weeks, but from early July through September the abundant blooms are constantly visited by bees, moths, and butterflies. Not only a few, but hoards, enough nasty looking bees and wasps that I fear to go close, and only a fool would dare to wade into the middle of the large clump.
The pollinators seem frantic, as if the mint’s nectar is available for a short time only. But, this goes on for weeks, and then by early September the swarms settle down to more modest numbers and the activity is not so feverish.
While bees and wasps buzz excitedly from flower to flower, butterflies seem more cautious, distracted by the stinging beasts. A Tiger swallowtail will perch on a bloom for an extended period, but remains vigilant, flapping its wings to ward off potential predators. The bees and wasps pay the butterfly no mind, intent only on savoring more of the mountain mint’s nectar.
Over several years three small plants have grown to cover an area of nearly forty square feet. I quickly learned that mountain mint will engulf any smaller plant in its path, though the new stems are easily pulled if they spread too far. I’m certain that some gardeners would find this aggressive habit an annoyance, but I’ve sited it alongside taller shrubs that successfully fend off the spreading rhizomes.
In past years the unbranched stems have stood erect through the summer, but some circumstance has resulted in the entire clump flopping to one side or the other this year. I’ll consider pruning the tall stems by half in late spring next year, and expect that they will be slightly shorter and more rigid. In any case, the flopping is likely to be a one year anomaly, and perhaps there will be no need to cut them at all.
The flopping detracts only slightly from the ornamental value of mountain mint, and of course it does not bother the pollinators at all. The coin sized discs of tiny flowers are complemented by lush foliage, with a velvety powdering of white on the uppermost leaves. The leaves emit a strong minty aroma when handled, and often just the rustling of leaves in a breeze will result in filling the lower garden with its scent.