A clump-forming perennial with square, unbranched stems. All parts of the plant have a pleasant aroma. Flowers normally in 1 terminal cluster, subtended by many small leaves that frequently are rose-purple. Floral tubes to 1½ inches long, ending in 2 lips, the lower broad and recurving, the upper arching upward with stamens protruding. Flower color can be white with purple spots, pale lavender, or pinkish. Blooms April–June. Leaves minutely hairy, inconspicuously toothed, lanceolate, opposite, nearly sessile, each pair at right angles to the nearest set.
Similar species: Seven species in the genus Monarda have been recorded for Missouri. Of these, two others are most widespread:
- Wild bergamot, or horsemint (M. fistulosa) is quite similar, but its leaves each have a definite stem.
- Lemon mint or lemon beebalm (M. citriodora) is scattered mainly in the southern half of the state; it is a branching annual, and there are 2–6 rounded flower clusters, one atop the other, on the flowering stalk. Beneath each flower cluster is a whorl of narrow bracts that are white to pink to lavender. Upper leaves may be in whorls. Crushed foliage emits a scent like lemon or oregano.