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MINT FLOWERS

Basil flowers, Ocimum basilicumThe 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 -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:

  • usually, but not always, they are strong-smelling herbs
  • two leaves instead of one arise at every node (better said, the leaves are opposite)
  • the stem is square in cross-section
  • the flowers are usually irregular (bilateral symmetry),   often looking like little dog-heads...
  • mint nutlets of hedge nettle, Stachys arvensisthe ovary is divided into four nutlets with the style arising from amidst them. In the picture at the right the nutlets are clearly visible nestled inside the calyxes after the corolla and style have fallen away, This is a Hedge Nettle, Stachys arvensis. Also note the squarish stem

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.

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, flowersOften 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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