Just fifteen mints of your time

The mint family of plants (Lamiaceae) is a large and diverse group that is a favorite among beekeepers. Many members of the family are extremely attractive to pollinators, and if you choose your plants carefully, you can feed your bees and harvest a crop of culinary herbs as well. Plants in the mint family include oregano, marjoram, basil, sage, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, catnip, thyme, lavender, and horehound.

Members of this family are distinguished by square stems and leaves in opposite pairs. The flowers are often small in whorled, spike-like clusters, but some species, like Monarda, have large flowers that attract hummingbirds. Many are aromatic and a number of species have colorful or variegated foliage, such as Solenostemon (coleus) and some Salvia.

In all, there are roughly 7000 species in the family divided into 236 genera. In the chart below, I’ve selected 15 genera that are readily available, easy to grow, attractive to pollinators, and widely recognized. The growth habits and flowering times are approximations and quite variable. The individual species and your local growing conditions will influence the growth habit, the flowering time, the amount of nectar produced, and whether the plants will overwinter.

Here in western Washington, I use oregano as “bait” for photographing a large variety of bees. For sheer number of bees, agastache has been the clear winner.

Genus Example Growth Habit Flowering
Agastache Korean mint erect & bushy mid-summer to autumn
Ajuga bugleweed clump-forming to spreading spring to early summer
Lavandula lavender shrub-like summer
Marrubium horehound spreading summer
Melissa lemon balm upright to bushy summer
Mentha peppermint low spreading to erect summer
Monarda bee balm clump-forming & tall mid-summer to autumn
Nepeta catmint erect & branched summer to autumn
Ocimum basil erect & bushy late summer
Origanum oregano spreading to upright summer
Perovskia Russian sage upright to sub-shrub late summer to early autumn
Rosemarinus rosemary shrub mid-spring to early summer
Salvia sage various (900 species) late summer
Satureja savory creeping to upright summer
Thymus thyme mounding to spreading summer

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Nancy
Reply

Rusty,

To this amazingly diverse list of mints I would add the inconspicuous Lamium purpurea, deadnettle, a winter annual* weed that starts blooming around here in Jan/Feb as soon as there’s any sun. The bees love it. Despite the bland mauve blossoms, the pollen is dayglo orange, so you’ll know if your bees have been in it. It seems to be an important early forage crop. And as a weed, it’s not bad: *it sprouts in November, and dies about the time the soil is warm enough to set out summer garden stuff. I will send you an image if you’d like to show others. Thanks for the list, we’ll use it for the library project!

Nan

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