Recording changes in wildflower and plant populations as the seasons progress…
Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)
Bee balm is my favorite of the plants so far investigated. It is a common wildflower, and also is often used in landscaping. In the pictures above, the purple flowers are native Bee Balm along the roadside and the magenta flowers are from domestic plants in our yard. Bees and butterflies are continuously visiting these flowers, as seen in the images. I’ve seen a hummingbird checking out the flowers too.
Among the several alternate names for Bee Balm are Wild Bergamot and Oswego Tea. Bergamot is the name of a totally different plant, a citrus that is famously used to flavor tea (Earl Grey Tea). The name Wild Bergamot for this plant reflects that its leaves have a minty, citrus scent reminiscent of the Bergamot citrus.
As suggested by the other name, Oswego Tea, its leaves can be used to make herbal teas. Reportedly this was a favorite of the settlement of Shakers near Oswego, New York. Online there are a myriad of other suggested uses for this herb’s leaves — from mouthwash to pizza topping.
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium)
This attractive group of Fireweed is on the Paul Bunyan trail between Walker and Hackensack.
The name Fireweed comes from the observation that this plant quickly colonizes burnt areas. While it establishes itself in bare areas quickly, it does not fare well in competition with other plants.
An alternate name, Great Willow Herb, reflects the resemblance of its leaves to willow leaves.
Fireweed bears a resemblance to Purple Loosestrife, which is an undesirable invasive weed. The Minnesota Wildflowers website gives tips on distinguishing between the two.
The next two plants are examples of extremely noxious weeds that have deceivingly attractive flowers.
Spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe)
The Minnesota Wildflower website does not mince words about the non-native spotted knapweed, “I hate this plant”! And, with justification; it contains chemicals that poison the soil for native plants. It is on Minnesota’s prohibited/control weed list, and is one of three plants that are targeted by the state’s bio-control program (the other two are leafy spurge and purple loosestrife). In the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed List, it appears as a weed that is established in Minnesota, but must be controlled.
Spiny Plumeless Thistle (Carduus acanthoides)
This is another villain, on the same Minnesota noxious weed list as Spotted Knapweed. This thistle, the spiniest in the state, has been invading Minnesota from the Dakotas, especially over the last 30 years. It is native to open grasslands in Eurasia.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture provides a fact sheet describing this thistle and the most effective means of controlling it. Reportedly it does not compete well against established native plants, but effectively invades disturbed areas like roadsides and vacant lots. Each mature plant can produce thousands of seeds — cutting them down on sight seems advisable!