Mint Family is a big one with unique, easy-to-identify, nearly-always irregular
blossoms, and it's a family likely to be found in most backyards. In herb
gardens, Mint Family members include rosemary, horehound, lavender, catnip, sage,
savory, marjoram, thyme, basil, peppermint, and spearmint. Mints often grown as
ornamentals include coleus, snapdragons, and scarlet sage. There are even
some weedy mints, among the most common being ground ivy, bugleweed, heal-all, henbit,
pennyroyal, purple dead-nettle, and hedge nettle. The above picture shows
flowers Basil, Ocimum basilicum, the corollas being about ½-inch long. Basil
flowers have a curious flat "cap" atop their calyxes, making them easy to
identify. Each flower of the thousands of mint species has something special about it, and
it's fun to know what those special features are.
Here are the main mint-family characteristics:
It's worth noting that lots of plants are strong-smelling herbs with opposite leaves, squarish stems, and irregular flowers, without being in the mint family -- lantanas and verbenas, for instance. But no plant has those features, plus flower ovaries divided into four nutlets... unless it's a mint.
Often a mint flower's stamens are positioned in strange ways in order to daub pollinators as they enter the corolla tube. In the flowers of the Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, shown at the left, note how the four stamens run along the corolla's top so that when a pollinator lands on the lower lip and enters the corolla tube, pollen will be daubed on its back.
If you have scarlet sage blossoming around your house you can see how its overarching stamens are actually pivoted in a certain way so that when the pollinator enters the tube it "pushes a lever" causing the anthers to swing downward and tag the pollinator from behind! We have a drawing of this about halfway down our Putting Pollen Where It's Needed page.
If you like the idea of growing mints in a garden and using them as spices, or just want to familiarize yourself more with the world of mints, take a look at the Magnificent Mints Web page.
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