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The Elusive Dressler’s Bee Balm

I have come into the habit of describing some plants growing in my garden as monarda, as if that is a common name. Other gardeners know what I mean when I refer to when I talk about monarda. I’m referring to bee balm, also known as oswego tea, also known as bergamot, a native North American herb that is brewed on its own, or in combination with other plants. Actually, Monarda is the name of the genus to which the monarda I know belongs.

The monarda I have in my yard comes in two varieties, with red or pink flowers, but the plants are probably both from the same species: Monarda didyma. There are many additional species within Monarda, though. In 2002, the American Society of Plant Taxonomists reported on genetic studies on the ribosomal DNA of 16 species within the genus.

Of these many Mondarda species, one is particularly elusive: Monarda dressleri, commonly known as Dressler’s Bee Balm. The plant was first scientifically described back in 1851, and has been reviewed several times since, but there isn’t much information about the plant online.

I am unable to find any images of Dressler’s Bee Balm, or any articles specifically describing the plant. However, the Encyclopedia of Life shows that the home range for Dressler’s Bee Balm includes a hilly forested area near Mexico’s eastern shore, just north of the town of Aldama.

The Zip Code Zoo doesn’t help much, but says that the latest taxonomic review of the species came in 2001. That’s important, because an article about Monarda taxonomy, published in the journal Phytologia in 1994, disputes whether the plant deserves to be designated its own species, and suggests reclassifying it as a variety within the species Monarda pringlei.

The Garden Guides web site has a slot for the species, but all that it reveals about Dressler’s Bee Balm is that it is a dicot (meaning that it has two seed leaves), and that it is “Cultivated, or not in the U.S.”. Cultivated, or not? They might as well have said that Dressler’s Bee Balm is carnivorous, or not. As far as I know, it isn’t a flesh-eating herb, but you never know.

If anyone out there can point to some better resources of information about Dressler’s Bee Balm, some help would be appreciated.

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