July 16, 2021
Mountain mint will make you a believer in native plants


by Mary Reid Barrow

 On hot sunny days,  insects  zoom back and forth over mountain mint at the Virginia Beach Middle School Butterfly Garden.

Bees, wasps and flies stop for a sip of nectar, then dart hither and yon so fast, you can barely comprehend what you are seeing.

It takes time to acclimate your eyes and your senses before you can figure it out.   You might even pass the action by if you don’t pause and watch the mountain mint carefully.

You can easily visit the garden by just walking behind the school or along the bike path also at the rear of the school.  But you also can get a sense of what insects think of mountain mint by  looking at this video from the garden on a hot recent morning:


You never see this kind of action in an ordinary garden. Calling it a butterfly garden is a misnomer too, though there are plenty of butterflies to be seen.  This a real garden, like gardens  used to be before we began importing plants from all over the world.

No doubt about it,  mountain mint is a  special favorite of insects, but the  garden is full of native plants making busy insects happy  from spring to fall.

Introduce yourself to mountain mint and you will be hooked on natives.

You might say you don’t want insects in your garden because they sting.

For the most part,  they don’t sting.  Insects are happy when they are eating.  They only get angry when you disturb their homes or nurseries.

But, you might say, mountain mint is not colorful. Maybe not in the rainbow sense, however it is the prettiest,  most serene shade of light gray-green to ever light up a garden.

And though mountain mint  doesn’t smell as sweet as a rose, it does smell like mint.

Dozens  of tiny green flowers bloom, like a gentle rolling wave,  across the top of mountain mint.  Its genus name, Pycnanthemum, comes from the Greek for dense and flower to describe these blooms.

There are several varieties, but what you see around here is mostly short-toothed mountain mint,  Pycnanthemum muticum.

Mountain mint and other natives provide the fast food nectar restaurant for adult insects.  Other natives might provide just the right leaves that are the perfect food for picky caterpillars, nature-made to eat only one species of plant.

Native plants make the world go round, ensuring we have the insects we need to pollinate  our fruits and vegetables and the trees and plants that live around us and to serve as the food that birds and other animals need to survive.

Get a glimpse of how it works and pay a visit to the  Butterfly Garden behind Virginia Beach Middle School.


Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell?  What relationships have you observed  between plants and critters?  Who eats whom?  Who has babies where?   Send an email to


PEARL HOMES are places where people care about our environment and want to do what they can to help protect our resources.

Learn more»

Lynnhaven River NOW recognizes schools providing outstanding environmental education as a Pearl School.

Learn More»

PEARL BUSINESSES are essential to truly move towards a more sustainable Virginia Beach and cleaner waters.

Learn More »

We all want to do our part to restore the health of all of our sacred waterways and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

Learn More»

SUSTAINABLE YARDS PROGRAM: Let us help you “green” your Lynnhaven watershed home. This unique program provides specific stormwater management practices to your yard at a significantly reduced cost to you.

Learn More»