Beautiful Native Plants

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Friday, February 19, 2016

An Inch-by-inch decoration feat

Dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) and pollinators.
Note that the top carpenter bee is being stroked on the back by the anthers of the flower.

Let’s talk about a decoration feat I discovered one fall a few years ago.  I have some exuberant stands of the native dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) in my yard. It’s a tall mint with a wonderfully complex tower of flower heads. The flowers themselves are pale yellow dotted with dark pink spots and are surrounded by pale to dark pink bracts. The bees and other pollinators go crazy when they open.

Like most mints, when you crush the leaves they release an odor, but this species has leaves that contain a thymol, the same oil as found in those savory Mediterranean herbs, oregano and thyme. It’s native to much of North America, including all but the southernmost tip of Florida, so American herb gardeners might consider adding this “horse of a different color” (but the same flavor) to their herb gardens. It’s drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant, and will grow in poor sandy soils, so what could be easier? Oh yes, it also self seeds, so you can share with your friends and neighbors.

The Decoration Feat

Since it’s a true mint, I decided to root some of the stems in water. I placed this beautiful bouquet on my desk so I could enjoy the flowers while I waited for the rooting to begin. As is often the case, my eyes wandered away from the computer screen, and as I gazed at the lovely flowers a couple of days later, something moved. I couldn’t see anything that didn’t look like the flower itself. I have a glass-topped desk and I noticed a collection of black dots on the desk under the flowers. I knew something was there, but what?

Southern Emerald Moth (Synchlora frondaria) decorates itself with pieces of the flower.

After some online sleuthing I decided that this was a camouflaged looper, the larval stage of an emerald moth. The larvae of this genus are inchworms that adorn themselves with bits of flowers for camouflage. The wavy-lined emerald moth does not occur in Florida, so it is probably a Southern Emerald Moth (Synchlora frondaria), but a solid identification can only be made by looking at the adult moth. I placed the bouquet out on the back screen porch hoping to see the moth, but I never saw an adult moth. Also, the mint never rooted—I guess it was too late in the season. Maybe next year… the gardener’s perennial promise.

Isn’t Mother Nature Amazing? 

Here you can see that this caterpillar is really an inchworm or looper.
A well-disguised caterpillar on the dotted horsemint. The worm fooled me, so it can certainly fool the birds 


Read more about the Southern Emerald Moth
For more details on the dotted horsemint read my post over on the Florida Native Plant Society blog.

Post by Ginny Stibolt