How to Plant & Grow Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)


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how to plant monkey flower in ponds
The shape and patterning of this wetland plant’s flowers are often said to resemble a monkey’s face, hence its name.

Also known simply as monkey flower or square-stemmed monkey flower, Mimulus ringens belongs to the lopseed family, Phrymaceae. The monkey flower genus, Mimulus, can be found worldwide but is primarily concentrated in Australia and North America. Allegheny monkey flower in particular is found natively throughout the US and Canada, with the exception of Florida, the Southwest, and Canada’s northernmost and westernmost provinces (B.C., Nunavut, etc.).

Monkey flower has a somewhat unusual name, and is owed to its appearance. When in bloom, the petals in combination with the lighter patterning at the center of the flower can resemble a monkey’s face. “Allegheny” is in honor of the Allegheny River running through New York and Pennsylvania, along which this species was first discovered. “Mimulus” translates to “mimic” in Latin, referring to the way the flower mimics the appearance of a monkey’s face, while “ringens” translates to “gaping,” in reference to the gap that exists between the petals of the two-lipped flower.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Allegheny Monkey Flower

common buckeye butterfly depends on monkeyflower mimulus ringens
The common buckeye butterfly depends on monkey flower for the survival of its young.

M. ringens is primarily found in damp or saturated areas like moist woods, along streambanks, pond edges, marshes, and flooded grasslands. Its non-aggressive rhizomatous roots make it adept at taking up excess nutrients, while the bright flowers draw in a number of pollinators.

Bees are the primary pollinators of this species, but monkey flower serves as an important host plant for the larvae of two butterflies: the Baltimore checkerspot and the common buckeye. Eggs are laid on M. ringens and after hatching, the caterpillars feed on the leaves before using them to roll up in, where they mature into butterflies that then visit the plant’s flowers. Both of these species suffer from high mortality as larval caterpillars, so understanding their importance (they’re not harmful and won’t kill your plants!) and having host plants like monkey flower are essential to their survival.

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Monkey Flower Fact Sheet:
PLANT TYPE
Herbaceous Perennial
HARDINESS ZONES
USDA 3 – 8
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Full sun to partial shade
BLOOM COLOR
Purple, blue, pink
BLOOM PERIOD
June – September (Summer)
MAXIMUM GROWTH
Height 15-91 cm (6-36 in; 21 in average)
PLANTING DEPTH
Place seeds on soil surface, or bury roots to base of stem
WATER QUALITY
pH 5.6 – 7.5

Allegheny Monkey Flower Growth, Hardiness & Climate

monkey flower growth and hardiness
Matt Lavin / CC BY-SA 2.0

The growth rate of monkey flower is moderate, with their full height of up to 3 feet (closer to 2 feet is considered average) being reached usually by their second season of growth. They can grow about a foot in a single season – some may max out at this height, particularly if planted in a shadier or crowded area. Despite having rhizomes, M. ringens doesn’t spread far or overtake areas – each plant typically only spreads about 6 to 12 inches.

Blooming typically occurs from June through September, though a mild autumn may yield blooms that stick around into October. Monkey flower will survive for years if grown in hardiness zones 3 to 8. Their small, yet bright, unique flowers will provide charm for the longest consecutive period of time if grown toward the higher end of that spectrum, in moist, sunny, warm environments.


How to Plant Allegheny Monkey Flower In Ponds

how to plant monkey flower
Mimulus ringens grows best in damp or saturated soil, like this individual growing in a shallow stream bed. Fritzflohrreynolds / CC BY-SA

An easy plant, monkey flower is best grown in either of two ways. If growing from seed, simply sow the seeds atop the soil in the autumn or winter. They’re dependent on cold-stratification, meaning that as the ground freezes and thaws, it will naturally weaken the husk of the seed and enable them to easily sprout in the spring.

The seeds will die if completely covered by soil, as they are dependent on light for germination, so it’s best to just place them directly atop the soil. You can press them in very slightly if you’re concerned with them staying put. There is no need to water, as they won’t germinate until spring. Do keep soil moist once sprouting occurs.

If growing from an already established plant or root ball, simply bury the roots up to the crown (base) of the stem in rich, moist soil. Monkey flower will grow well in either damp soil or in up to one or two inches of standing water if the plants are mature. Seedlings may drown or rot if placed in standing water, but will also die if the soil is dry.


How to Care For Allegheny Monkey Flower

monkey flower mimulus ringens growing in a wetland
Kevin Kenny / CC BY-SA 2.0

As touched on above, monkey flower prefers damp conditions. The soil of seedlings should just be kept moist, while more mature plants with established roots tolerate standing water just fine. Ideally, these should be planted marginally along the edge of your pond where you won’t have to worry about watering them.

Really, all you need to do is make sure that the soil doesn’t dry out and the plant as access to at least partial sunlight. Partial shade will result in a plant that is bushier, but that might have fewer blossoms. To encourage increased blooming no matter the lighting, trim off any flowers as they start to die off. As always, clean any trimmed or dropped foliage from your pond to maintain healthy water quality.


How to Winter Allegheny Monkey Flower

Monkey flower is natively a northern plant, and as such is able to simply go dormant and thus survive even bitter cold winters with several feet of snow and ice. In fact, this tends to help them as the snow and ice work to naturally stratify the seeds and prepare them for spring! Mature plants will naturally die down in the autumn, storing energy in their roots to sustain their winter dormancy and fuel spring growth when the time comes. There’s no need for any special treatment to prepare them for this.


Is Allegheny Monkey Flower Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Monkey flower is native to North America and technically invasive outside of this range. However, it is not an aggressive plant and thus isn’t known to overtake areas. Regardless, do try to only use plants native to your specific region in your garden or pond. If you’re quite set on having monkey flower but live outside of North America, take care to plant it in baskets or pots to help prevent it from escaping cultivation into natural areas.

There is, however, an invasive species that poses a particular threat to Allegheny monkey flower. Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife, is overtaking the riparian and wetland ecosystems of North America in an overwhelming wave. Purple loosestrife, invasive outside of Europe, is able to overtake large expanses of land within only a few seasons of being introduced, and has resulted in native wildflower species like M. ringens producing fewer and fewer seeds each year as pollination success drops off in concurrence with booming invasive loosestrife populations.

Allegheny monkey flower exhibits no known toxicity, and is therefore presumed safe for use in and around fish ponds.


Is Allegheny Monkey Flower Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

Monkey flower is technically edible, though evidently can taste bitter and mature plants are often high in salt. Reportedly, some Native Americans utilized dried parts of M. ringens as a salt substitute when cooking. Your fish are unlikely to show much interest in it, but more curious or gluttonous fish like koi might try nibbling the tender roots if the plants are planted within their reach.


Where to Buy Allegheny Monkey Flower & Seeds? (UK & US)

Allegheny monkey flower is easily obtained via native plant nurseries in the US and Canada, either in person or online. Elsewhere in the world, you’ll likely have to order it online or request a special order from a nursery.

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