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

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wildflower Wednesday: Blephilia subnuda

 Cumberland Pagoda plant is our May Wildflower Wednesday star and not only is it lovely to look at, it's a favorite of the bumbles that live in the garden. If only it were more available to we native plant aficionados.

B subnuda with Christmas fern, Hydrangea arborescens, Heuchera and Phacelia

Blephilia, the pagoda plant or wood mint, is a genus of three species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. They are all herbaceous plants native to eastern North America. Blephilia are most often found in open areas, glades, and mesic forests. All species are considered threatened or endangered in some states. The genus includes only perennial species that spread by both seeds and through stem division. Small white to purple-lavender flowers occur in inflorescences that cluster in the upper leaf axils, often in several circular layers (hence the common name pagoda-plant). Leaves are generally lanceolate to ovate and vary in shades of green. Leaves are either petiolate or subsessile (depending on the species). Like many other members of the subtribe Menthinae, all parts of Blephilia are highly aromatic when crushed and have smells similar to menthol and spearmint.  (source)

mint family characteristics

 A really rare Blephilia

 Blephelia subnuda/Smooth Woodmint/Cumberland Pagoda-plant/Cumberland Woodmint has a rare presence in the southeast. Plants have been found in rocky limestone forests within the Cumberland Plateau region of northeastern Alabama and Tennessee. Richard W Simmers and Robert Kral collected specimens in 1983 and described and compared them to B ciliata and B hirsuta in an article in Rhodora the Journal of the New England Botanical Club (1992).

UNC Herbarium

Other than the article mentioned above there is little written about B subnuda. I am not sure why, unless its similarity to the others two Blephilias makes it uninteresting to botanists. Another question I have and wish I could find an answer to is this one: "Why is this plant so rare, when others in its genera aren't?" We know that it's vulnerable to damage from logging, but, whether it's naturally rare or has been affected by habitat loss remains an unknown. So someone, please research this!

 Downy woodmint not so rare

Downy woodmint is found in most eastern US states

Blepilia ciliata/Downy woodmint (photo above) was here at Clay and Limestone long before there was a garden. It's a more intense purple then B subnuda, which is more white with purple spots. B subnuda's  leaves are smooth and lack hairs. Both attract bumbles in my garden and I am glad to have them. Both like the neutral clay soil over limestone and are doing well in the semi-shade.

Blephilia subnuda at Clay and Limestone

Terri Barnes of Growild Native Plant Nursery introduced me to smooth woodmint (another common name) and I've been pleased with how well it does in my garden. I got two quart sized containers and planted them along the stone path to the front garden. They're growing happily beneath Hydrangea arborecens and Hydrangea quercifolia. They're cavorting with Christmas ferns, Heuchera, Trillium, CarexScutellaria, Phacelia and wild ginger.

I want more!



A good looking plant

B subnuda is a beautiful flowering plant with upright unbranched reddish stems. The toothed foliage is lance shaped/ oblong and opposite along the stems. Leaves and stems are faintly aromatic when crushed and hairless. In late spring and summer, dense whorls of clustered flowers encircle the stems for about a month. The tiny individual flowers are two lipped and white to pinkish with purple spots.


Terri Barne's private garden

This needs to be in more gardens! Contact Terri Barnes of Growild Native Plant Nursery to see when it might be available. Trust me, you will love it and so will your pollinators.



The Particulars 

Botanical name: Blephilia subnuda

Family: Lamiaceae

Common Names: Smooth Woodmint, Cumberland Pagoda-plant, Cumberland Woodmint 

Range: Rocky limestone forests within the Cumberland Plateau region of northeastern Alabama and Tennessee.

Duration: Perennial 

Habit: Herb 

Size: To about 2 feet in height.

Leaf Arrangement: Opposite 

Leaf: Simple/Compound:,Perianth Absent  

Flower: In late spring and summer, dense whorls of clustered flowers encircle the stems for about a month. The tiny individual flowers are two lipped and white with purple spots.

Fruit Color: none

Bloom Color: White, pinkish, purple

 Bloom Time: May, June (late spring)

Bloom Notes: Flowers white with purple spots on the lower lip.

Maintenance: Easy peasy once established. Good drainage is helpful.

Comments: On the endangered plant list in TN

Not browsed by dear or other herbivores (so far)  

Value:  This is a good choice for a pollinator garden, wildlife garden, prairie garden, rock gardens, Butterfly garden, water wise gardens, or, in a meadow. If you're patient it will eventually make a lovely ground cover. 


COMPANION  PLANTS:  You can pair it with other plants that enjoy similar cultural requirements, like Aster laevis, Phlox pilosa, Coreopsis tripteris, Solidago nemoralis, Bouteloua curtipendula, Sorghastrum nutans or Schizachyrium scoparium. In semi-shade it's planted with Christmas ferns, Heuchera, Trillium, CarexScutellaria, Phacelia and wild ginger.


UNC Herbarium


Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.


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 hairy wood mint in my garden too. Love it as much as the bees love it.

  2. The flowers remind me of Monarda, which makes sense given they are both in the Mint Family. A useful and beautiful plant. How hardy is it?

  3. Those flowers are wild, but they look lovely!

  4. There's always something new to learn on your blog! I think you are a therapist of some type, but it seems maybe you also studied botany?

  5. I come to your blog to learn about unique plants that no one else grows!

  6. Another fascinating plant. Thank you!~~Dee

  7. Actually, I think E.O. Wilson is the person who is quoted in Dr. Tallamy’s book as saying that insects run the world. Thank you for giving more info on this delightful plant.


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