The genus Monarda belongs to the mint family. It has fragrant leaves and showy flowers; it has antiseptic properties.
The genus name Monarda is the brainchild of Carolus Linnaeus, the eighteenth century botanist who deserves to be called the father of taxonomy. In the sixteenth century, when Spain was dominant in the New World, her ships had brought various specimens back to Spain, and Nicolas Monardes had studied them. For this reason, Linnaeus decided to use a Latinized form of his name to designate this genus of plants.
Linnaeus also gave names to several species that belong to this genus. For example, he invented the names of Monarda didyma, Monarda fistulosa, and Monarda punctata.
The genus belongs to the mint family, scientifically known as Labiatae or Lamiaceae. Labiatae was its original family name. However, botanists wanted all plant family names to end in –aceae, so Labiatae was changed to Lamiaceae. Nevertheless, the older name is still persists in current usage.
In this family, Monarda is united with many plants that are held in high esteem, such as sage, basil, marjoram, and mint.
Monarda didyma and other Monarda species are called beebalm, sometimes spelled bee balm. Two different sources say that it received this name because it attracts bees.
Another common name is bergamot. According to the Botanical website, this is due to its resemblance to the bergamot orange, which grows in Italy. Monarda didyma is sometimes called red bergamot because of the color of its flowers.
Another common name is Oswego tea. According to the Floridata website, the botanist John Bertram gave it this name because he noticed Indians and settlers of New York using it to make tea. Other sources identify the Oswego Indians as one of the tribes that followed this practice.
A final name for plants of the genus Monarda is “horsemint.”
Monarda species are native to North America, but some have established themselves in the Old World. According to USDA, Monarda didyma grows in eastern United States as far south as Tennessee and Georgia. It also grows in the western states of Washington and Oregon and in eastern Canada. In addition, it established itself in the Old World after the discovery of America.
Monarda fistulosa grows in almost every U.S. state and in most of Canada. Other species have a more restricted distribution in the United States. For example, the only state in which Monarda viridissima grows is Texas.