WV Wildflowers: Meehan's Mint
When Thomas Meehan, a Philadelphia botanist, died in 1901, I’m sure he went to the big forest in the sky feeling proud that Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859–1934) named a genus of plants in his honor. I’d also bet that he didn’t now how wonderful his namesake plant was. In fact, most people don’t know how wonderful Meehania cordata is.
Charles and Martha Oliver are proprietors of the Primrose Path Nursery in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, and are dear friends of mine. I’d noticed Meehania cordata listed in their catalog. After reading their description and hearing them extol the virtues of this charming little plant, I asked them to please bring me one on their upcoming visit. I’d requested one the year before, but it always seemed they were sold out. So I was emphatic that I must have one, and intimated should they not bring me one, they might end up sleeping in my barn that chilly autumn night.
Tiarella, Heuchera, and Heucherella are the main focus of their breeding work, so we had planned a day of Tiarella-hunting in Wolfpen Hollow, a hauntingly mysterious woodland area near my farm. We’d just descended a summit into the foggy creekbottom when I heard Charles laughing hysterically behind me on the trail. I turned to see what he found so amusing and saw him pointing to the ground. There, all around him, the ground was covered with “Meehan's Mint.”
Talk about getting caught not “practicing what you preach.” Me, who in all of my lectures on native plants makes a point of telling people to “look in your own backyard!” Well, after I recovered from my initial embarrassment, we looked further and found the entire west-facing slope of the hill down to the creekbed was a veritable carpet of dark, glossy green, cordate (heart-shaped, hence the specific epithet cordata) leaves, vining over rocks and decaying tree limbs, basking in the deep shade of the Hemlock and Oak woods above the water.
I took some cuttings, not knowing whether they would root so late in the season, but I had a gut feeling of optimism. Sure enough, they rooted in a matter of weeks.
The following spring, I checked in on the population and found that the new growth was thick and lovely. In June, I went back to observe the flowers and found a sea of lilac, pink, and lavender trumpet like blooms at the tips of the stems. They reminded me very much of Scutellaria, another member of the mint family and close relative of Meehania. Now, having many plants from the rooted cuttings that I overwintered under a dark bench, I proceeded to plant them under a small grove of Lilacs and Viburnums. They responded to the rich humus that had accumulated under these older shrubs and almost immediately started to wind their way around on the ground.
Taxonomically speaking, Meehania cordata is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family. In North America, Meehania cordata is a monotypic (single) species in the genus. Its reported range is from southwest Pennsylvania to North Carolina and Tennessee. Its heart-shaped leaves are on the diminutive side, averaging 1 to 1½ inches wide at the petiole and are about 1 inch long. I suspect that it’s hardy to zone 4, maybe even 3.
I know of at least one other Meehania species in cultivation, that being Meehania urticifolia, Meehania cordata’s Asian cousin. It can be found growing through the woods of the mountain forests in the Honshu area of Japan. The specific epithet, urticifolia, refers to the nettle like foliage.
Unlike other members of the mint family, Meehania cordata could never be considered invasive or even aggressive. It’s also very easy to propagate from stem cuttings and by division.
Meehania cordata is one of the best plants I can think of for those dark and foreboding corners of the garden where there isn’t enough light for most other plants. Even if it didn’t have the added benefit of those brilliant, colorful flowers, I would recommend it as a very useful groundcover.
Barry Glick, the self-proclaimed “King of Helleborus,” grew up in Philadelphia in the 1960s, a Mecca of horticulture. Barry cut high school classes and hitchhiked to Longwood Gardens before he was old enough to drive. In 1972, he realized there was just not enough room for him and his plants in the big-city environment, so he bought 60 acres of a mountaintop in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, where he gave birth to Sunshine Farm & Gardens, a mail-order plant nursery. Barry grows more than 10,000 different plants and specializes in native plants and hellebores. He can be reached at 304.497.2208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.