Garden, Spear, or Mackerel Mint – Flowers

(Mentha spicata)

Mint family

(M. viridis of Gray)

Flowers—Small, pale bluish, or pinkish purple, in whorls, forming terminal, interrupted, narrow spikes, 2 to 4 in. long in fruit, the central one surpassing lateral ones. Calyx bell-shaped, toothed; corolla tubular, 4-cleft. Stamens 4; style 2-cleft. em : Smooth, 2 to 1 1/2 ft. high, branched. Leaves : Opposite, narrowly oblong, acute, saw-edged, aromatic.

Preferred Habitat—Moist soil.

Flowering Season—July—September.

Distribution—Eastern half of Canada and United States. Also Europe and Asia.

The poets tell us that Proserpine, Pluto’s wife, in a fit of jealousy changed a hated rival into the mint plant, whose name Mentha, in its Latin form, or Minthe, the Greek equivalent, is still that of the metamorphosed beauty, a daughter of Cocytus, who was also Pluto’s wife. Proserpine certainly contrived to keep her rival’s memory fragrant. But how she must delight in seeing her under the chopping-knife and served up as sauce!

It is a curious fact that among the Labiates, or two-lipped blossoms to which thymes and mints belong, there very frequently occur species bearing flowers that are male on the first day (staminate) and female, or pistillate, on the second day, and also smaller female flowers on distinct plants. Muller believed this plan was devised to attract insects, first by the more showy hermaphrodite flower, that they might carry its pollen to the less conspicuous female flower, which they would naturally visit last; but this interesting theory has yet to be proved. Nineteen species of flies, to which the mints are specially adapted, have been taken in the act of transferring pollen. Ten varieties of the lower hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and others) commonly resort to the fragrant spikes of bloom.

Peppermint (M. piperita), similar in manner of growth to the preceding, is another importation from Europe now thoroughly at home here in wet soil. The volatile oil obtained by distilling its leaves has long been an important item of trade in Wayne County, New York. One has only to crush the leaves in one’s hand to name the flower.

Our native Wild Mint (M. Canadensis), common along brook-sides and in moist soil from New Brunswick to Virginia and far westward, has its whorls of small purplish flowers seated in the leaf axils. Its odor is like pennyroyal. The true pennyroyal, not to be confused with our spurious woodland annual, is M. Pulegium, a native of Europe, whence a number of its less valuable relatives, all perennials, have travelled to become naturalized Americans.

In dry open woods and thickets and by the roadside, from late August throughout September, we find blooming the aromatic fragrant Stone Mint, Sweet Horse-mint, or American Dittany (Cunila origanoides)—C. Mariana of Gray. Its small pink-purple, lilac, or whitish flowers, that are only about half as long as the protruding pair of stamens, are borne in loose terminal clusters at the ends of the stiff, branched, slender, sometimes reddish, stem. A pair of rudimentary, useless stamens remain within the two-lipped tube; the exserted pair, affording the most convenient alighting place for the visiting flies, dust their under sides with pollen the first day the flower opens; on the next, the stigma will be ready to receive pollen carried from young flowers.