For no particular reason, I’m sharing some photos of wildflowers in the mint family (Lamiaceae) this week. Among prairie plant families, mints seem to get less attention than others, including Poaceae (grasses) and Fabaceae (legumes), but there’s plenty to like about them.
For one thing, most plants in the mint family provide helpful hints to those of us trying to identify them. Significantly, most have a stem that is square in cross section. That’s a very helpful clue when you’re staring at an unknown plant, and it can push you in the right direction in a plant key or field guide. If you roll the stem between your fingers, you can feel those four angled edges. (Be aware, however, that some non-mint plants also have square stems.) Mints also have opposite leaves, meaning their leaves emerge from the stem in pairs, straight across from each other – as opposed to alternate leaves, which appear in a staggered formation up the stem.
I was trying to decide how best to describe the way the flowers look on mints and looked up the description of Lamiaceae in my trusty Flora of Nebraska book for inspiration. After reading it, I decided to just quote from its descriptions of mint family flowers. Here you go:
- “Inflorescences usually of cymes axillary to leaves or bracts, the flowers of one pair of leaves or bracts forming a verticillaster, the verticillasters either borne along the length of the stem or crowded near the tip to form an interrupted or +/- continuous terminal thyrse.”
- “Flowers usually perfect with the calyx persistent, +/- tubular, varying from regular with 5 (or, rarely, 10) teety or lobes to bilabiate and forming either 2 or 3 lobes;”
There was more, but I expect that clears up any questions you might have had. (heh heh)
(If I was going to start a rock band tomorrow, I would call it “The Persistent Calyxes” and we would play Verticillaster guitars.)
Of course, the most familiar characteristic of mint family plants are that they usually have a fairly strong fragrance, even when not flowering, thanks to glands in their stems and leaves. There are lots of great examples of this, but my personal favorite mint smell comes from mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp). It has a very gentle and pleasing scent; not quite as sharp or biting as a peppermint or field mint. So now you know that about me.
Ok, I hope you enjoyed this short tribute to the mints. Wish me luck on my new musical adventure!