by David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturalist
Growing plants of the genus Agastache (pronounced A gas' ta kee or A gas tack' e), commonly known as hummingbird mint or hyssop, has been an obsession of mine for over 25 years and counting. They have everything I love in a perennial: aromatic flowers and foliage, stunning spikes of tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and they bloom in summer and fall, extending the seasons of color in my xeriscapes, and with the exception of one species (Agastache rugosum), they are North American native plants.
The Hummingbirds Mints are the superstars of my gardens. In full bloom, they are magnificent! Aglow in shades of pink, orange, lavender, and blue, these plants are like peacocks, over the top in extravagant colors. The hummingbirds are plentiful too. From dawn to dusk, they're busy sipping the Agastache flowers, thriving on the abundance of their nectar. In summer, these hyperactive little birds give my xeriscapes a frenetic energy not seen or felt at other times of the year. Learn more about the story of how this amazing plant has made its mark on the world of horticulture.
The Beginnings Of A Superstar
I first became familiar with Agastache in the early 1990’s when I planted Agastache cana (Texas Hummingbird Mint). At that time they were an obscure and infrequently grown genus of perennials. But, by the end of the growing season, I was smitten. The unique beauty of the flowers, the wonderful sweet herbal scent of the plant’s foliage, and its incredible popularity with the hummingbirds in my garden had convinced me that these plants deserved more attention.
My introduction of Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) through the High Country Gardens catalog in 1996 was a milestone that caught the attention of gardeners, nurseries, and plant breeders across the country. This rare species from southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, only known to a few botanists at the time, was selected as a Plant Select® winner in 1997, and became instantly popular.
Its appeal has continued over the years and it’s now grown internationally in Europe and across North America. The popularity of Agastache rupestris eventually caught the attention of professional plant breeders, and over the past 10 to 15 years, there have been many new Agastache hybrids and seed-grown cultivars introduced to gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic.
Growing With Southwestern Native Seeds
At the beginning of my work with these stunning wildflowers, there was Sally Walker, owner of Southwestern Native Seeds. Based in Tucson, AZ she was very focused at that time on collecting seeds of the various Agastache species, many of them rare and not being grown in cultivation.
They are scattered across the vast territories of New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico, which Sally and husband trekked across in a VW bus. My seed purchases from her company provided me with all of the best plants in the genus. And it was from these seed collections in the early 1990s, that I introduced new species and garden hybrids.
Thank goodness that the wild-collected seeds of all these incredible species appeared when I was ready to explore these fascinating plants. This would not be possible now. Many species native to northern Mexico are no longer accessible. Drug cartel control over much of the northern part of that country makes it impossibly dangerous to trek deep into rural hills and mountains in search of seed. Populations of species found north of the border in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are more accessible but very difficult to find. Years of climate change intensified drought and habitat degradation from grazing have greatly reduced wild populations.
Learn More about Sally Walker: Plant Explorer