Species Spotlight – Monarda fistulosa var. brevis (Smokehole bergamot)

Monarda fistulosa var. brevis

Smokehole bergamot is a diminutive Monarda growing just 9" tall in dry, infertile soils. Suitable for gravelly areas, rock gardens, or planter boxes.

Monarda fistulosa var. brevis (Smokehole bergamot)

Smokehole bergamot is short in stature and long in durability when planted in drier, well-draining soils.  Native to dry mountain and talus slopes, this naturally tiny Monarda sports colors ranging from white (see picture) to light shades of pink/purple and deep green, thick, glossy leaves.

Monarda fistulosa var. brevis is likely the first Monarda to bloom in the spring (late-May in the Philadelphia area), preceding even the shale barren form of Monarda clinopodia and long before Monarda fistulosa var. fistulosa.  Forms nice tidy, vigorous clumps in dry to well-drained soils.  Note, however, that this Monarda cannot tolerate clay or high-organic soils during a wet winter.

Native to just 5 counties in the entire United States, four in West Virginia and one in Virginia, this is a plant you might struggle seeing for yourself in the wild.

ArcheWild maintains two strains, one each from West Virginia and Virginia.  The latter shows deep red color in its leaves and sometimes looks like a Coleus.

An excellent pollinator support species for gravelly garden beds or rock gardens.  Capable of developing large, dense, contiguous patches in infertile soils.

Easy to grow from seed.  Can be grown indoors in a bright window or in a hanging planter.  Plant in very light, airy soils being careful to not over-water.  Needs little fertilizer.

See the historic distribution of Smokehole bergamot here.

Researchers Kimball, Crawford, Page and Harmon have determined that Monarda fistulosa var. brevis is genetically distinct from Monarda fistulosa var. fistulosa.

“Inter-simple sequence repeat (ISSR) banding patterns were used to examine genetic diversity within and among populations of Monarda fistulosa var.brevis, a rare taxon restricted to several populations in limestone glades and barrens in eastern West Virginia and Virginia. More than 34% of the total ISSR diversity in var.brevis occurred among populations, which is high when compared to the few other rare species that have been examined for ISSR variation. Prior studies demonstrated that var.brevis is morphologically distinct from the more widespread var.fistulosa, and that the differences are maintained when the two varieties are grown together in a uniform environment. The present study utilizing ISSR markers indicated that the two varieties are distinct, though quite similar genetically, and this is concordant with prior investigations documenting their morphological and habitat differences. However, the ISSR results suggest that the two varieties have diverged relatively recently and/or there is a low level of gene flow between them.” Rebecca T. Kimball, Daniel J. Crawford, Jessica R. Page and P. J. Harmon, Brittonia. Vol. 53, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2001), pp. 511-518.

There is an herbarium record held at the Smithsonian.  See the picture below and click here to see the online record.

Species Spotlight - Monarda fistulosa var. brevis
Species Spotlight – Monarda fistulosa var. brevis

USDA range map.


All plant images © 2012-2020 ArcheWild.