top of page

Good Plant / Bad Plant

by Tim Kennelty

Taghkanic resident, Tim Kennelty is a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteer through Cornell Cooperative Extension, and is the co-host of Cornell’s weekly Master Gardener podcast, Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley.

Column #4 – Beebalm and Multiflora Rose

Good Plant/Bad Plant is a monthly feature of the TGazette, focusing on two plants in each edition – one plant that is ecologically valuable, and one plant on the other end of the spectrum that is invasive or a noxious weed.

Wow, first drought and now the monsoons have come. Welcome to the new normal for summer weather in Columbia County. With so much variability in our weather we want to consider plants that are hardy and can take the extremes. This month our good plant fits that bill. And our “bad plant” is one that you may have just been commenting about how pretty it is or what a pleasant fragrance it emits. Time for the big reveal…our good plant is Bee Balm and our bad plant is the Multiflora Rose.

Our good plant is a member of a large group of plants in the mint family, the bee balms or wild bergamots. For simplicity sake, I’m going to refer to them by their genus – Monarda. Most of the Monardas you can buy at your local nursery are one of either of two species native to the eastern United States, Monarda didyma (Bee Balm) and Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot). Monarda didyma cultivars can be found in a wide assortment of sizes and colors from dark red to vibrant pink to even a deep purple. They generally like rich, moist soil in full sun. Monarda fistulosa is usually sold as the straight species. It has lavender flowers and can take drier soils.

Monardas are clump-forming and spread well, but are not too aggressive and very easy to divide and transplant. Two other great features are that they have a long bloom time – often up to eight weeks in mid-summer – and because they are in the mint family, they are seldom bothered by rabbits or deer.

But maybe most importantly they are amazing pollinator plants, often covered in a variety of native bees and butterflies. To the swallowtails in my garden, they seem to be almost irresistible. And they are also a big favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds and hummingbird clearwing moths. I do a lot of photography in the garden, and one of the first plants I go to when I’m looking for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds is the Monardas.

The only downside may be that some Monarda cultivars are more prone to mildew, especially as we get later into the season. I’m including below a link to Mt. Cuba’s Monarda trial results The trial rated all kinds of characteristics like habit, floral display and disease resistance. It should make choosing the right Monarda for your garden a lot easier.

So, for beautiful, long-blooming, care-free flowers that attract a wide range of pollinators, you really can’t go wrong with Monardas.

Now for our bad actor of the month: the dreaded multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). I guess not really dreaded so much, since it was actively planted for a century in the United States. This invasive perennial shrub from Asia was first introduced in this country in the 1860s as root stock for ornamental rose breeding programs. By the 1930’s the USDA was actively promoting the multiflora rose to be planted in large numbers in the Northeast and Midwest for erosion control, wildlife enhancement and to deter roaming animals. Even as recently as the 1960’s some states’ conservation departments were encouraging its planting for wildlife and along highways to reduce headlight glare. Well now we can say in retrospect, what were they thinking?!

Multiflora rose has become one of the most pernicious invasive plants, quickly forming impenetrable thickets pushing out native plants and shrubs and inhibiting nesting birds. This is a very tough foe. In early summer it produces multiple fragrant white or pink blossoms, and that’s the end of the good news. A single plant can produce up to 500,000 seeds per year, dispersed by birds and other fruit-eating animals. The seeds can be viable in the soil for up to 10 years. It is a monoecious plant producing both male and female flowers, so a single plant can quickly turn into a colony. And there are really no effective herbivores eating this plant. Can you blame them… it is covered in sharp thorns that curve towards the base of the cane, so you can easily be impaled by just passing by.

So, what can you do if you find a multiflora rose on your property? Regular pulling, digging, mowing and cutting this beast can keep it at bay, but this is like most invasive controls, a multi-year project. Some folks are using goats and sheep to manage this plant on their properties. Chemical controls are also an option and I’ll include some links with more information on that. There are no commercially available biological controls, although rosette disease which causes “witch’s brooms” can kill infected plants. The best defense is always early detection and removal. So, get out there to not only smell the roses, but make sure you don’t have this invader in your yard.

That’s it for another edition of Good Plant/Bad Plant. And remember, if you want to support wildlife in your yard, plant natives.


Monarda Links:

Multiflora Rose Links:

165 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All


thanks for this - good to see you mention powdery mildew. we have the straight species fistulosa and it gets covered in mildew each year. I'm going to swap some of them out to test the resistant cultivars.


Always enjoy your commentary which is knowledgeable and well written. Regarding personal experience with monarda,, a friend gave us a few plants which we put on a rather dry hillside 25 years ago. The hillside is literally covered with Monarda which does make a beautiful display but it does tend to spread in a manner which I would consider somewhat aggressive.

bottom of page