Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha bustamanta)

So long ago I don't remember (i.e. sometime before last week), I planned to post hummingbird plant profiles, thinking I'd put out one every couple of weeks. I might have posted three...with this one, four. 

Mexican oregano is a long-flowering option for attracting pollinators and hummingbirds.  I've used it in cooking but was advised not long ago (see comment) there might be side effects, so the leaves stay in my garden now. 

I'll confess that if a hummingbird finds salvia or firebush in the garden, Mexican Oregano will be visited second.  But Mexican Oregano's low bushes offer flowers in hot times and provide nectar for butterflies and sphinx moths as well as hummingbirds.

They bring wintertime cheer with evergreen foliage.  And for about six warm-season months sport tubular purple blooms.

<---Giant swallowtail butterfly on Mexican Oregano.

Drought tolerant and deer don't eat it.  I'm a little afraid to say that about the deer, this year the animals are eating plants on every 'don't eat' list, but my Mexican Oregano plants have been free from predation so far.

The plants grow into small bushes 2-3 feet high, suggested spacing is 18-24 inches. The branches arch and sprawl but break easily.  I have them next to paths...and think of the breakage as a self-pruning mechanism.  Otherwise they benefit from a light spring pruning.

Above, our back porch view, Mexican oregano mixed with purple lantana and white salvia greggii in foreground, red blooms of firebush (hamelia patens) across the dry creekbed. 

Plant in well-draining soil in full sun to light shade. More Mexican oregano plants are killed by wet feet than drought.

Cold hardiness is graduated.  According to a Texas A&M plant profile (here), "Mexican Oregano is an evergreen woody shrub in USDA zones 9b to 11, a dieback woody subshrub in 9a to 8b, and often root hardy in zones 8a(7b); it tends to be a more reliable woody plant in arid regions; hardiness in zones 8 and 7 can be suspect, particularly in more mesic climates."   

My experience with cold hardiness in our zone 8 location has been good, including last winter's spell of 3-days-below-freezing when the plants made it through without losing leaves or suffering cold damage.

We've been flocked with hummingbirds this year--the desert-drought has reduced the Hill Country to baked clay.  Our perennial flowers must look like an oasis to the birds.  I'm grateful for drought-tolerant plants that nurture our wildlife and cheer our garden.
Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. I love these windows into your very different and very beautiful world.

  2. Great plant - looks like what I cann Poliomintha maderensis...I wonder if it is 2 names fo rhte same species? Mine hardly getting water, flowering lightly, and mine froze back to ground 1st time in 10 years. Sounds more like USDA 7 hardiness, if it is the same as yours?

    But deer-resistant so far? Amazing!

  3. Wow, I'm amazed at the swarm of hummingbirds. I'm lucky to get one to my feeder, if any. Lovely!

  4. Oooh - that's going on my list for next year. It's about the right size for my garden and I love the fact that hummers, butterflies and more are attracted to it.

    I'm amazed at your swarming hummingbirds. I've only seen one so far this year. Last year I had three or four, but one always chased the others away.

  5. I love that swallowtail photo. . .I hope you're a teacher - you have this fantastic way of making me want to learn more!

  6. What a beautiful yard you have!

    I too love the Mexican Oregano...we have dozens of hummers around our place, not as many as some years, but still a lot.

    My neighbor gave some oregano that I planted this year--she said it is perennial. We'll see...we have some cold winters here.

    Great pics!

  7. It is lovely that you have so many birds and butterflies visitng your garden ... and deer, how lovely.
    The Mexican oregano sounds nice as the Italian variety can be too strong.
    Lovely photos and interesting text dear Kathleen.
    xoxoxo ♡

  8. Hi Kathleen,
    I really like the way your garden looks: wonderful xeriscaping. And that - xeriscaping - is what we intend to get done here at our garden [garden from above], too, come autumn.
    Re hummingsbirds: contrary to the past years, we haven't seen any as yet, in spite of having all our feeders out.
    Best regards from Karnes City, and stay cool,

  9. It's nice to read something about your part of the world that isn't about the relentless heat. And the photos are amazing, as always!

  10. I miss having whitetails in my backyard and darn to perdition the day a developer purchased the 300 acre dairy farm behind me turning it into McMansions on 1/4 acre postage stamp lots. Hello homes, goodbye wildlife.

  11. Boy, Kathleen, that view from your house is breath-taking.

    The hummingbird photo is wonderful. They are about the only birds I like.

    Love you loads,


  12. Hi Kathleen,
    I love this article about the hummingbirds, Mexican oregano and your lovely garden. The photos are great too. I may need your permission to use one of your entries for our autumn issue.

    What your're doing is great. You have fans. Keep up the good work

    Shirley Flanagan

  13. This plant is Poliomintha bustamanta (not P. maderensis). This is a wonderful shrub that will flower for the better part of the year. I have one in my garden in northern Florida and it overwinters very well, even with hard freezes.

    I study these plants in the Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico, and they are really very interesting. I wish to warn you, however, that at least one species of Poliomintha is known to contain acutely toxic compounds that will kill lab animals in a few hours (and with minuscule amounts of crude plant extract; see Deciga-Campos et al. Journal Of Ethnopharmacology (2007) vol. 110 (2) pp. 334-342). In Mexico, members of this genus are always dried before using the leaves as a condiment, and this may denature these compounds. However, we are not sure, and we also don't know which of the other species share these compounds. Please be careful if you are using this plant for culinary purposes. We need to know more about it first! Grant Godden


My readers are all geniuses. Can't wait to see what you have to say.