Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A horsemint portrait

with 35 comments

Here’s yet another floral portrait from the Capital of Texas Highway on June 14th.
This one shows the tiered inflorescence of a horsemint, Monarda citriodora.


“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” — Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 9, 2021 at 4:46 AM

35 Responses

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  1. I can imagine this as a beautiful tiered cake. Mark Twain is very quotable. This is one from his NZ visit. “All people think that New Zealand is close to Australia or Asia, or somewhere, and that you cross to it on a bridge. But that is not so. It is not close to anything, but lies by itself, out in the water.”


    July 9, 2021 at 6:55 AM

    • After you’ve made a cake like this, be sure to send us a piece by air express.

      What Mark Twain said about New Zealand is both funny and true: many people in the world have no idea where New Zealand is.

      Mark Twain was so witty that people even quote things he never said. Oh well, he himself sometimes came up with contradictory versions of things he’d said. Here’s an article dealing with one of those:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2021 at 7:14 AM

    • Have you read the book? I’ll bet you have. It includes Fiji as well as Australia and New Zealand. If you don’t have it, you can find it on Project Gutenberg.


      July 9, 2021 at 1:31 PM

      • No, actually I haven’t read it. I looked at the Project Gutenberg version and noticed on the first page a reference to forest fires raging in British Columbia. That reminded me of our smoky time in southwestern Alberta and a little into southeastern British Columbia in 2017.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 9, 2021 at 1:54 PM

      • Sadly I haven’t, so thanks for the Gutenberg reference.


        July 9, 2021 at 9:49 PM

  2. That’s a lovely “tiered” beauty! Horsemint is in full bloom in this area. I need to try to dig some up and get started on our property.


    July 9, 2021 at 8:21 AM

    • Good luck getting horsemint going on your property. Eve is especially fond of the strains with richly purple flowers (as opposed to paler ones).

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2021 at 8:29 AM

  3. Wow! I had exactly the same reaction as Gallivanta, a showy floral confection for a wedding.

    Robert Parker

    July 9, 2021 at 9:11 AM

    • Though at opposite poles on the Milwaukee–Christchurch axis, the two of you are attuned to each other. Even so, if you start speaking with a New Zealand accent, it will surprise us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2021 at 9:21 AM

    • Yeah .. exactly that. Same!

      Ms. Liz

      July 9, 2021 at 10:12 PM

  4. This morning brought the delight of viewing your floral wedding cake and reading all the witty comments.

    Peter Klopp

    July 9, 2021 at 12:14 PM

    • Yeah, we’re starting a whole new fashion in floral wedding cakes. You can tell people you were in on it at the beginning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2021 at 12:29 PM

  5. Horsemint, or Lemon Bee Balm as it’s also known, is one of my favorites. I like all the shades, from white with a hint of lavender to the darker purples. A few times I’ve wondered what a plant was until I began to catch on that it was a young Monarda citriodora, but that’s not unusual. BTW, yesterday’s William Dawson reference was great. The original Fisk singers under his direction that I found on YouTube were even better than the more recent performances, I thought. Listening to his Symphony reminded me of George Gershwin’s music – of course, they were probably drawing on the same folk sources and traditions for their melodies and using contemporary instrumentation. Thanks for an afternoon “wasted” listening to some great music.


    July 9, 2021 at 12:55 PM

    • That’s a kind of “wastage” we don’t mind. My impression is that Gershwin was more influenced by jazz than Dawson was, but I know very little about Dawson and so I might be mistaken.

      Musical influences go in multiple directions. Take the slow movement from Dvořak’s famous “New World Symphony. A page at Lumen Learning notes that “The theme from the Largo was adapted into the spiritual-like song ‘Goin’ Home,’ often mistakenly considered a folk song or traditional spiritual, by Dvořák’s pupil William Arms Fisher, who wrote the lyrics in 1922.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2021 at 1:32 PM

    • Interesting to learn more about William Dawson. I was fascinated to learn that The Fisk Singers are still going strong after 150 years.


      July 9, 2021 at 10:05 PM

  6. This flower is truly beautiful! I enjoy seeing all of the flowers!

    Caroline Smith

    July 9, 2021 at 1:15 PM

  7. This is a lovely portrait. On Galveston Island, M. punctata seems to be more common; this species is around, but I remember finding it a bit more inland. The bands of alternating color are more obvious when there’s a little purple involved. Beyond that, it’s always interesting to compare the before-and-after photos of this one. The seed heads are as interesting as the flower is pretty.

    As for Twain, I’ve always enjoyed the epigraph to Following the Equator: “Be good, and you will be lonesome.” The Project Gutenburg scan of the book shows the saying in Twain’s handwriting, and Jimmy Buffett made a great song out of it.


    July 9, 2021 at 1:28 PM

    • One disappointment in 2021 was the loss to construction of a field that had a great colony of horsemints two decades ago, when I was only beginning to appreciate such things.

      We have opposite relationships with the two Monarda species you mentioned. Horsemints are very common here, whereas I normally have to go outside Austin for the spotted beebalm. When it comes to horsemints, I’m partial to the ones with saturated purple. And as you said, the seed heads have their own appeal, which often lasts into the next year.

      Imagine Jimmy Buffett turning that Mark Twain epigraph (which I wasn’t familiar with) into a song. Thanks for pointing it out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2021 at 1:46 PM

  8. I see that I am not the only one who sees the horsemint flower head as a decorative arrangement. It’s an amazing cascade of blooms.

    Steve Gingold

    July 9, 2021 at 5:58 PM

  9. A beautiful flower!

    Eliza Waters

    July 9, 2021 at 7:46 PM

  10. […] contrast to last time’s sharp portrait at f/18, the pictures in today’s post represent a limited-focus approach (f/2.8 and f/3.2) to […]

  11. I love Monarda. I have two varieties growing here in my gardens; Five Spotted (similar in growth to your photo) and Bergamot. When in bloom they are a bee feast with the Five Spot being the most heavily visited. I know where to find seeds for your variety and will start some in early spring. Another lovely, living “Bee Bar” for the Farmlet. Thanks for sharing, Steve.



    July 10, 2021 at 12:22 PM

    • Had to go to the internet to find out that both plants are called Horsemint or Monarda citriodora. I also saw that you mentioned this fact in the comments above. 😉 No matter, I am looking forward to seeing this brighter colored form here too.


      July 10, 2021 at 12:37 PM

      • Good luck cultivating your own Monarda citriodora. I’d give you pointers except I’m not a gardener and have always photographed horsemints in the wild (or at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center).

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 10, 2021 at 1:13 PM

    • There’s a slew of Monarda species out there, few of which I know anything about beyond the ones in my area, with horsemint being far and away the most common. In Ohio in 2019 I got to photograph Monarda fistulosa on the property where the Wright Brothers practiced flying their planes: https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2019/08/25/more-from-huffman-prairie/

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 10, 2021 at 1:10 PM

  12. I too think that Gallivanta is right, a beautiful tiered cake! Floral splendour …


    July 16, 2021 at 4:32 PM

  13. A beautiful image, Steve. It does look like a tiered cake! We have a lot of horsemint growing wild here.

    Lavinia Ross

    July 18, 2021 at 11:50 AM

    • I take it you’ve gone a different Monarda species there—or did someone cultivate the Texas species and it escaped into the wild?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2021 at 2:50 PM

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