Mentha spicata (Spearmint)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Mentha
Family:Lamiaceae (Mint)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:Eurasia
Status:
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; average to wet, disturbed soil; stream banks, shores, ditches, fields, roadsides, gardens
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: spike Cluster type: whorled

[photo of flowers in an interrupted spike] Spike cluster up to 5 inches long at the top of the stem and at the tips of lateral branches, often with a pair of smaller spikes arising from the uppermost leaf axils. There is sometimes a distinct gap between whorls of flowers (an interrupted spike), especially on the lower part of the spike. Flowers are about 1/8 inch long, tubular with 4 lobes, pink to lavender or sometimes white; 4 long stamens extend out of the tube. The calyx holding the flower has 5 teeth, is often glandular, and is hairless except for a short fringe of stiff hairs on the teeth.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite, up to 3 inches long, to 1+ inch wide, narrowly egg-shaped to elliptic, rounded at the base, mostly pointed at the tip, toothed around the edges, hairless or with a few hairs on major veins on the underside, and stalkless or on very short stalks (to 3mm, 1/8 inch). Crushed foliage has a distinct spearmint scent.

[photo of rhizome] Stems are 4-sided, hairless, light green to red tinged, usually branched. Colonies are formed from stout, whitish underground stems (rhizomes).

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] The persistent calyx holds 4 tiny, oval, dark brown seeds.

Notes:

Spearmint is the plant famous for flavoring teas, candies and other foods, and has also been used as a medicinal, treating ailments from headaches to flatulence. While the plant may resemble other members of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, the scent of crushed spearmint leaves is pretty distinctive and should readily identify it, though it is further distinguished by the essentially hairless leaves and stems, leaves that are stalkless or nearly so, and terminal spikes rather than whorls in leaf axils as the related, native Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis) has.

Spearmint has only been recorded in Minnesota a few times, but is more common in other parts of the US. While it hasn't been described as invasive, it certainly has the potential to be problematic. The rhizomes can spread rather quickly, form tangled masses a few inches below the surface and result in a dense monoculture. We grew it in the garden to get photos and it started overtaking the area in just a couple seasons. I dug most of it up but likely missed some rhizomes; we'll have to see how much returns.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Goose Garden

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in the home garden.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Sharon Erickson Ropes - Gooseberry State Park
on: 2021-02-16 09:56:53

In the early 1970s....Because I grew up in Two Harbors, going to Gooseberry was a common activity. My uncle pointed out a patch of spearmint, growing low along a trail. The trail was on the north (or west) side of the Upper Falls, not too far past the Highway Bridge and beyond the stone building on that top side. It was a shady area with pine trees and not a lot of ground vegetation. We picked and chewed a few leaves. As a kid, I was amazed that a leaf tasted just like Wrigley?s spearmint gum!

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-08-30 15:48:07

I think I might've found a Hybrid between Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and the Native Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis). The hybrid doesn't seem to be spreading like crazy, Pollinators love them, and it Taste good. Would you Recommended Spreading it's seeds everywhere I hike so Hikers can enjoy mint time to time? It's 50% Native, therefore 50% not a problem right?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-08-30 19:36:54

John, it is unwise to spread seeds if you aren't sure what species it is. It would be unwise to spread spearmint in any case, hybrid or not.

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-08-31 21:49:28

What about the Native Version? There's no such thing as an Invasive Native right? If so is that the solution? Using Native Wild Mint to Out Compete our Invasive Species? Seeds are cheap, herbicides are not.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-01 08:21:35

John, native plants are not considered invasive, though some can be aggressive in cultivation. In my own yard, natives are some of my worst weeds since the natural factors that keep their populations in check are absent in my unnatural suburban yard.

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-09-03 19:50:13

That begs the Question, Are our forests also becoming unnatural just like your Suburban Yard? Could a Native Plant disrupt the natural balance too? At that point is anything natural left? My local forest gets run off from herbicides & fertilizers thus disrupting the natural balance. Are Invasive species pioneering a new balance? or adapting to an already destroyed balance via Humans?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-04 09:44:27

John, our forests become unnatural only when people who could prevent it, don't. A new "balance" based on invasive species only decreases biodiversity and increases local extinctions.

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-09-06 13:52:48

Local Extinctions makes me think about Ghost Introgression. How many extinct species have their genetics in modern plants? Are they Truly extinct or just evolved into a new species? Also How many times have these "Invasvies Species" Cycles happened throughout evolutionary history? How was Biodiversity affected? and How did Nature Overcome the Lack of Bio-Diversity? Will Nature eventually overcome our mistakes (Faster if we Team up with Nature)? Could Native species like deer help further exacerbate Invasives species spread? Despite being a Native Species, did the introduction of Invasive Plants turn Deer into an Invasive Species too? Or is that not Possible? Is the solution to hunt/eat more deer? Or something else?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-07 08:19:25

John, white-tailed deer population exploded due to habitat fragmentation caused by humans. They thrive in forest and woodland "edge" systems, the amount of which increased dramatically as trees were cleared for agriculture and development. The deer overpopulation causes further habitat destruction.

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-09-11 02:09:23

They also thrive in Suburban Gardens 🙄 Interesting you bring up Forest/Woodland Edges. They are the most richest ecosystems I've seen. That explains the deer because the edges is usually where I find the most abundant wild edibles. I've cleared/Thinned lots of Trees in my Property to create more Woodland Edge, and noticed Lots of Native Plants popping up. Apparently they were just waiting for the moment to shine. How many of our Invasive Plants do deer eat? Are there any native plants deer actually help out?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-11 12:54:17

John, I am not aware of any native plants that benefit from deer overpopulation.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.



(required)




Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.