Pollinators love the flowers of this native plant.


If you want to get in with the gardening cognoscenti, just tell them you planted a pollinator garden and they'll love you. Pollinators are very important to the world's food supply and even better than that, they're "trending." Plenty of plants bestow nutritious nectar to pollinating insects, but there can only be one that's the best. Grumpy's choice – mountain mint.

Mountain mint
Credit: Steve Bender

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is an upright perennial wildflower native to most of the eastern U.S. A member of the mint family, its characteristic square stems hold bright green, spearmint-scented leaves. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and forms a quickly spreading patch when it's happy. In summer, rounded clusters of tiny lavender-pink to white blossoms open atop the stems. At the same time, the topmost leaves of each stem take on a silvery sheen. Perhaps this "snow on the mountain" effect is responsible for the "mountain" in its name. It certainly isn't restricted to mountains, though, and grows very well in lowlands too.

Now I'm not gonna kid you – mountain mint's ornamental appeal is subtle and best appreciated at close quarters. Pollinators including butterflies, moths, beneficial stingless wasps, and at least 19 species of bees find the blooms irresistible, however. There hasn't been a day since my mountain mint started blooming that I haven't found it a-buzz with friendly bumblebees. The 2013 Pollinator Trials at Penn State ranked mountain mint #1 for longevity of flowers (it blooms all summer) and number of different insects attracted.

In addition to pollinator gardens, mountain mint is appropriate for natural areas, meadows, low-water gardens, cottage gardens, and mixed borders. I planted it next to white 'Becky' Shasta daisies and the combo is sheer genius. Adapted to USDA Zones 4 to 8, mountain mint thrives in full to part sun and well-drained soil. Don't give it too much water or the roots will rot.

As I mentioned earlier, mountain mint spreads by running roots. You'll probably find a lot more of it sprouting in spring than you had the previous summer. No big deal – unwanted stems are easy to pull or dig. Share them with trending friends.