Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday: Downy Wood Mint

I hope you know Blephilia ciliata...It's a delightful little charmer that will brighten a shady spot in your dry woodland garden.

 I met Downy Wood Mint the first summer after we moved into this house. I was wandering around in my new yard when I spotted what looked like monarda growing in the lawn. Was I ever excited. It was definitely a mint; it had square stems, opposite leaves and whorled light lavender flowers at the top of the stalk! The only thing missing was the tell tale monarda fragrance, instead, there was just the tiniest hint of a minty smell when the leaves were crushed.

I wasn't disappointed for long. Downy Wood Mint is a beautiful flowering plant and it's happier in my garden then Monarda has ever been. It is tolerant of my dry shade, isn't an aggressive grower and was naturally growing here.

Talk about right plant-right place! It really is.
Blephilia ciliata is a gentle colonizer! It's not a rough and tumble wildflower blazing a trail through my garden, instead it, gently and slowly spreads. It's a carefree flower that blooms for a month and does a good job attracting pollinators.

Speaking of pollinators, according to Illinois Wildflowers: "The flowers attract long-tongued and short-tongued bees, bee flies, Syrphid flies, butterflies, and skippers. The numerous bee visitors include honeybees, bumblebees, Anthophorine bees, little carpenter bees, leaf-cutting bees, Halictine bees, masked bees, and others. The small seeds are unlikely to be of much interest to birds, nor is the foliage an attractive source of food to mammalian herbivores." (source)

opposite leaves and square stems
Unfortunately, like many beautiful and unique wildflowers, you might have trouble finding this plant in the trade. Check with your local native plant nursery for plants and online for seeds (Prairie Moon Nursery sells the seeds)

Flowers are typical of the mint family, with an upper lip and a 3-lobed lower lip; pale lavender with purple spots.

 The particulars:

Blephilia ciliata is an herbaceous perennial of the mint family.
Native to eastern North America.
Occurs in rich open woods, glades, valleys and ravines, borders of woods, old fields, and along roadsides.
Hardiness zones 4-8
Common names:  downy wood mint, downy pagoda plant, sunny woodmint and Ohio horsemint.
Will tolerate shade and dry soil, but, is equally happy in rich garden soil.
Needs a few hours of bright sun to flower best.
Flowers in early summer in my garden.
The seed heads are attractive all winter.
Basil leaves remain green all winter.
The leaves can be used to make a mild mint tea.
NOT browsed by dear or other mammals.

I do hope you can find room for Downy Wood Mint in your garden.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I have not come across your lovely Blephilia ciliata before it is lovely. Thank you for hosting this meme. As a wild flower lover I think it is a wonderful idea to share our native flora. I am always trying to persuade other people to join in because I think, the more people who love and cherish our wild flowers, the better chance they have of survival. This is particularly important in Britain where every year several wild flower species become extinct through loss of habitat. Here is my link http://thebloominggarden.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/wildflower-wed…-14-man-orchid/

  2. Your flowers of the downy wood mint look alot like those of the Monarda punctata that I have on my blog. Like so many wildflowers, it is native to the eastern US but doesn't occur naturally in the west where I live. It looks delightful though, one more wildflower for me to covet.

  3. Hi Gail, I've been encouraged to join in by Chloris (above).
    This post is one I had already posted (on Monday), but I hope in the future to coincide with your meme. I'll just pop back into my post to edit it to add the link back to you.
    Thanks so much for hosting, as Chloris said, we should cherish our wild flowers and respect their habitats.

  4. I would have thought this was Monarda, too, at first glance. I'm always on the lookout for something that likes dry shade, and a mint that is a "gentle colonizer" sounds much more appealing than most! I plan to join in again this month--my post is in its draft stage, and I hope to finish it later today. But first, I have to get some of the plants covering my back porch into the ground!

  5. Such beautiful photos! Your downy wood mint is similar to the monarda that many gardeners grow here in Austin--same family, so I guess that's not a surprise. Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  6. Oh I will have to find these seeds and add them to my garden and meadow. I am finding that colonies of plants as these are wonders in my garden and create a better habitat and easier gardening...thanks for recommending this plant Gail!!

  7. I would have taken it for a monarda as well. I wonder if it is already growing around here and I just thought it was something else. There are a lot of plants in the mint family, and I've never thought of digging any of them out of the lawn and planting them in a garden bed. I'll have to look more closely at my lawn. I wrote about wild geranium for my Wildflower Wednesday post.

  8. I like that deep purple, it's a great color and plants that flower well in dry shade are very special finds for the garden. It is very similar to Lemon beebalm which is a monarda and appeared in my garden a few years ago.

  9. I planted a wild mint bought at Kirstenbosch. My Ballota grows more like yours in lavender tiers. Today's post I'm delighted the wild orchid I rescued, is growing again!

  10. It is indeed very lovely - nice little spots, two flowers for the price of one, and would be earlier than Monarda? Any well-behaved wildflower that can handle dry shade should be at the top of many must-have lists.

  11. You have the most interesting assortment of plants, Gail! Every time I read a Wildflower Wednesday post I get an education, and I love that. What a great plant, it does indeed look a lot like Monarda.

  12. This is a new plant for me, the spotted marking remind me of an Orchid, but overall the appearance of Monarda your penultimate photograph is fantastic in detail. Thankyou for hosting this meme, its a great opportunity to learn about other wildflowers from across the globe.

  13. Yes, that is a delightful charmer! There was something similar to that growing in Union Plaza, a big public area put in recently, partly to reduce the flood plain. I looked whatever it was at the time, though, and found it's a biennial. I plan on checking to see if they staggered the planting so that there will be some blooming this year.

  14. Like Hannah, I was thinking about Monarda punctata (and M. fistulosa) when I first saw your photos. From your description, it sounds like the perfect plant for my dry shady areas. Thanks for the idea--I'll check it out at Prairie Moon Nursery.

  15. I love when plants come up naturally in the yard, as then you know that's a good spot for them! A very pretty plant, and I always love a good plant for pollinators! Thanks for hosting!

  16. I'm in better late than never, but my post is up. I met this plant last year in a garden full of natives. The gardener loves it for its appeal to pollinators.

  17. Okay, I want some for my garden. I posted about a wildflower interloper in my garden.

  18. Just discovered your blog and this meme - love it! I also like the Blephillia ciliatat. I may have to try that one in my partly shady backyard garden!

    I am Pro-Pollinator!

  19. A few days late but I hope you enjoy my post on California Poppy, with fun pictures of them hanging out in Austin : )

  20. Hi Gail! Carefree flower, tolerant to dry shade? Sold! I have a special spot for it!
    I hope my post is OK for Wildflower Wednesday since it has pictures of some wild flowers in Sissinghurst Garden.
    Thank you for hosting WW. Have a great June!

  21. I think I have a perfect place for it, that means you Monarda Jacob Cline.

  22. I am glad you mentioned Monarda, because just looking at your photos, I would have thought that is what it is.

  23. Gail, do you know if this can tolerate full sun? Missouri Botanical Garden says yes (http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=j530), but Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center advises shade to partial shade (http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=BLCI)


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson