The Hummingbird Mints

Texas hummingbird mint (Agastache cana)

Texas hummingbird mint (Agastache cana)

Agastache is a genus of over 20 species mostly in North America commonly referred to as giant hyssop or hummingbird mint. As the common names suggest, it is in the mint family (Lamiaceae).

Plants in the mint family are often reliant on pollinators and good additions to the wildlife garden. These plants will attract an array of native bees and bee mimics, butterflies (especially the blues and hairstreaks) and other nectar-seeking organisms.

Oh, and duh, they’re attractive to hummingbirds.

There are 7 species in Arizona and more in California, New Mexico, Texas and Sonora. Agastache is primarily a riparian plant in our region, growing in moist, protected canyons and washes, or under pine canopies in the mountains. But with moderate water, they take our heat just fine in the low desert. All are hardy for our region. They can take the sun fine with more water, but are also a great option for those tough shady spots. They will bloom in the shade, though not as dramatically as in the sun.

Flowers are pretty and plants are often aromatic (some more than others). Plant leaves are used in teas, and the one species native to Asia is used in Chinese medicine.

The species we list are the most common found, but look out for other species that are native to our general region.


Thread-leaf hummingbird mint
(Agastache rupstris)

Thread-leaf hummingbird mint (Agastache rupstris)

Thread-leaf hummingbird mint (Agastache rupstris)

This species is really pretty and from the distance can almost be mistaken for a penstemon. In fall the flowers of this species emerge red, long, tubular, and slender with narrow throats, somewhat resembling a sky rocket or Gilia. Found in canyons or under forest canopies in Arizona and New Mexico.


Pale hummingbird mint
(Agastache pallida)

Pale Hummingbird Mint (Agastache pallida)

Pale Hummingbird Mint (Agastache pallida)

Though this is called pale, we aren’t sure why. The flowers of this species vary but are always pretty, and there are some much more pale species in our region. This species grows in pine-oak woodlands and canyon bottoms in the shade of oaks.


Sonoran hummingbird mint
(Agastache wrightii)

Sonoran hummingbird mint (Agastache wrightii)

Sonoran hummingbird mint (Agastache wrightii)

This pretty member of the mint family stands out with its interrupted but generally more open inflorescences, smaller blue flowers, and exceptionally fragrant foliage. Canyon slopes and bottoms on igneous substrate with oaks, ponderosa pine, and grasses 3600-6600 feet in elevation.


Texas hummingbird mint
(Agastache cana)

Texas hummingbird mint (Agastache cana)

Texas hummingbird mint (Agastache cana)

This species, as the name denotes, this species is from Texas, and rare in New Mexico. There are several forms of this species and flowers range from pink to purple to red. This is a large perennial and these plants can get large and shrubby (though will need to be cut back once in a while). Sometimes called “mosquito plant” this species is reputed for repelling mosquitoes.


Blue hummingbird mint
(Agastache foeniculum)

Blue hummingbird mint (Agastache foeniculum)

Blue hummingbird mint (Agastache foeniculum)

This species is native in the central US and north into Canada, but may be more easy to find in the regular nurseries. We still suggest trying to find the native species of Agastache but we wouldn’t kick this plant out of bed for eating crackers. It starts blooming a little sooner than the other species, in summer, but continues into the fall with its blue flowers. There are a zillion selections and hybrids with this species. If you grow this species at all, we suggest getting the unadulterated regular old species. You see, people tend to breed plants to suit human needs rather than the needs of wildlife, and well, you know where we stand on that.

Katherine Gierlach