Thursday, July 5, 2012

Meehan's Mint - A Charming Fragrant Ground Cover

Meehania cordata foliage
Meehan's Mint is a charming plant that is easily over-looked for it creeps low on the forest floor like a fragrant green mat. Lavender, hooded flowers in late spring to early summer will attract more than a glance if you're watching where you walk.

Meehania cordata flower
Meehan's Mint is named for Thomas Meehan (1826-1901), a British-born botanist who made America his home. He was a nurseryman and author who contributed greatly to the world of horticulture. In fact, it was his passion. In a letter to George Englemann (1809-1884), another pioneering botanist and a physician, Meehan wrote, "I begin to feel more strongly everyday that life is not worth living unless we can add some little to human knowledge with every day that goes over us" (26 January, 1883).

The genus, Meehania, was actually named by Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934), a leading taxonomist of his day and founder of the New York Botanical Garden. Of the few known species, one, Meehania cordata, is native to the United States. The others are native to China and Japan.

Speaking of adding to human knowledge, an article, New phenolic compounds from Meehania urticifolia, by Murata, Miyase and Yoshizaki, was recently published in the Journal of Natural Medicines, Vol. 65, Number 2 (2011). It seems they might have potential in cancer prevention.

Meehania species are not widely available for purchase, but probably will be when gardeners discover how desirable they are. Meehania cordata, because it's native to the U.S., should be the first to become popular in North America.

Meehania cordata (pronounced mee-HAN-ee-uh cor-DAY-tuh) is a perfect choice for ground cover in the shade garden. Foliage is herbaceous, meaning that it usually dies back in winter. The specific name, cordata, refers to its heart shape. Plant height with flowers is about 4 inches to 6 inches.  Meehan's Mint spreads slowly by runners to 15 inches across.

It thrives in partial shade to full shade in USDA climate zones 3 through 9 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with slightly acid pH, 6.1 to 7.5. It likes consistent moisture, though Meehan's Mint is also somewhat drought-tolerant.

Before planting, you'll need to know the pH level of your soil. Take a sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. The fee is nominal.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants. 

Space the plants 12 inches to 15 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Meehania cordata is native from Pennsylvania, westward to Illinois, and southward to North Carolina and Tennessee. However, you mustn't collect plants from the wild to transplant to your garden. It is listed as Endangered in Pennsylvania and Threatened in Tennessee. Buy container-grown plant material.

Meehan's Mint is a superb plant for naturalizing in shady corners in the garden. It would also be a fine addition to native plant collections, medicinal plant collections and herb gardens. Ajuga makes a fine companion plant.  It also combines well with such natives as Chrysogonum, violets (Viola spp.), and ferns.

Return to Meehania at goGardenNow.com.

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