Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Happy horsemints

with 35 comments

On June 8th I was driving along Greenlawn Blvd. in southern Round Rock when I saw a colony of sunflowers and doubled back to check it out. Leaving my car in the parking lot of the adjacent construction site for a school, I walked over and discovered a great colony of horesemints (Monarda citriodora) that hadn’t been easy to see from the road. The horsemints were a trifle past their prime but still looked good, as you can confirm.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 11, 2020 at 4:29 AM

35 Responses

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  1. Yes indeed. From a distance the past primeness isn’t that obvious, just a nice huge colony of minty goodness. Is there a strong scent from the flowers or do the leaves need to be rubbed for it to be given off?

    Steve Gingold

    June 11, 2020 at 4:47 AM

    • I like the way you put it: “just a nice huge colony of minty goodness.” I only get the lemony scent when I rub horsemints. Maybe people with a better olfactory can smell the flowers directly.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 6:59 AM

  2. Now I’m curious: What is the relationship of horses to their common name? They’re very striking!


    June 11, 2020 at 5:01 AM

    • The horsemint is one of the first native wildflowers I saw in a huge colony, much larger than this one.

      I read an explanation for the name that said the scent reminded people of wet horses. I’m in no position to know if that’s true.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 7:16 AM

      • What an interesting observation! Have you noticed that quality when you were among them? Both CD and I really like the smell of horses, wet (even sweaty) or dry. I know of several plants, of course, that bear names relative to their olfactory properties: Stinkhorn fungus and the notorious coprosma come readily to mind.


        June 11, 2020 at 6:38 PM

        • I’m at a disadvantage in this compared to you because I haven’t been around horses and don’t know what they smell like under various conditions. The name “horsemint” would have come about in the 1800s, when everybody in Texas had daily contact with horses. All I know is that when I rub my fingers on horsemints and then smell my fingers I sense a citrusy fragrance; that’s reflected in the species name citriodora.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 11, 2020 at 6:57 PM

  3. What is horsemint? The name would suggest to me that it is considered a delicacy for horses. Great photo, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    June 11, 2020 at 8:29 AM

    • It’s hard to beat a dense colony of these tiered flowers. You have a genus-mate in British Columbia, Monarda fistulosa. I read an explanation for the name “horsemint” that said the scent reminded people of wet horses. I don’t know if that’s true.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 1:04 PM

  4. It resembles garden varieties of Monarda.


    June 11, 2020 at 8:47 AM

  5. Outstanding photo, Steve.


    June 11, 2020 at 10:05 AM

    • Thanks. I’d not have been much of a photographer if I couldn’t have gotten a good picture of such a densely flowering colony.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 1:14 PM

  6. Perhaps they’re past their peak, but it’s a very pleasant scene. I googled to see if people give breath mints to their horses, and apparently there are mint treats – – PETA cautions people to be sure and obtain “agar agar” vegan products, nothing involving gelatin from animal products. I’m not a horseman or equestrian, but I wouldn’t have thought a wet horse smelled like mint. I do like the smell of saddle soap, I guess the lanolin and beeswax.

    Robert Parker

    June 11, 2020 at 12:22 PM

    • Part of me still wishes I’d come across the colony a few days or a week earlier, but the results were good anyway. Horsemints, though they’re in the botanical mint family, don’t have a minty scent, but rather a citrusy one.

      I’ve ridden a horse exactly once in my life, in Minnesota in 1967. What I don’t know about horses would fill an ocean—like people giving mints to them. I do know that you can buy agar agar “gelatin” in health food stores and even some supermarkets.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 1:37 PM

  7. Nature’s pointillism. How would this be in golden hour?

    Michael Scandling

    June 11, 2020 at 1:06 PM

    • The direction of the light shortly after sunrise probably wouldn’t be right for this location. The light near sundown should work, though with temperatures then still around 90° and traffic in Austin picking back up, I’m not sure I’m intrepid enough to go there and find out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 1:42 PM

  8. Amazing! This looks like something woven, they are so tightly packed.


    June 11, 2020 at 1:15 PM

    • This species has a predilection for growing in dense colonies like the one shown here, and sometimes much larger ones. Interesting that it reminded the previous commenter of a Pointillist painting, and you of something woven.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 1:46 PM

  9. Great stuff, Steve and never realized you are near my backyard (live in Leander now) — so will be stalking your blog more now to steal photo spots 🙂

    Brandon Brasseaux

    June 11, 2020 at 11:12 PM

  10. […] I’d headed out to find when I stumbled across the one that brightened up the background in yesterday’s picture. A member of the Texas Wildflowers group on Facebook had shown a few pictures of this large colony, […]

  11. I’m amused by those sunflowers creeping away from their colony to visit the horsemints, like botanical Vasco da Gamas, Columbuses, or Humboldts. I wonder if they’re aware of one another, or if each thinks they’re sailing the horsemint sea alone?

    A western horsewoman I know says the name ‘horsemint’ refers to the flowers’ size, rather than any assumed palatability. In her area, horsemints often are accompanied by Monardella odoratissima, or ‘coyote mint.’ I don’t know whether coyotes like munching on that one.


    June 12, 2020 at 6:38 AM

    • I, too, noticed the few sunflowers that had crossed the line into horsemint land. I wonder if botanists have investigated whether the boundaries between contiguous colonies have enough in common to be considered a distinct kind of habitat, along with riparian, montane, etc.

      It’s true that English has used the epithet “horse” to indicate something large, bulky, and perhaps crude. For example, there’s a horse pill and the horse marines. Whether horsemint is in that category or is a horse of a different color, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2020 at 6:57 AM

  12. Love this stuff … even if it is past its best 🙂


    June 16, 2020 at 3:50 AM

    • Fortunately it was only a little past its best. Horsemints vary in color: some get to purple (see a few in the lower right), while others stay pale.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 16, 2020 at 5:06 AM

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