Mother Earth News characterizes bergamot as akin to "a somewhat disheveled chrysanthemum atop a two-foot high, erect stalk." To identify monarda, look for family traits. This member of the mint family resembles many of its cousins and has been used for centuries as an herb. It was brewed by Native Americans and adopted by English colonists as "Oswego Tea" at the time of the American Revolution. It has a lovely flower, an unruly growth habit and attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
Look for sharp-cornered square stalks that are between 18 and 36 inches tall. Monarda stalks are hollow and brittle; they break easily. Stalks rise from the ground for about 12 inches and often branch to produce three or more flower-bearing stems.
Find long, oval, pointed leaves with fine-toothed edges. Some hybrid varieties are dark green, some are dull and some are shiny. Wild bergamot has smooth-surfaced, gray-green leaves. Bruise the leaves--they should release a pungent, spicy odor. Plants that are crowded or grown in compacted soil may exhibit mildew on their leaves.
Examine the flowers. Wild bergamot blooms, one flower to a stem, beginning in early summer and will bloom through fall. Flowers are pink to shades of purple. Long, tubular petals rise above specialized leaves called bracts. The effect is that of trumpet-shaped petals rising haphazardly from a ball-shaped base that grows as the petals fade. The fruit that follows flowering is brown. Hybridized forms bloom in shades of scarlet, white and yellow as well as pinks and purples. Wild bergamot is a persistent bloomer, often putting up smaller blooms after its leaves have withered and dried.
Note how it grows. Wild bergamot is a perennial that grows slowly from seed. Once mature, however, it forms clumps that, like most mints, will become invasive if not controlled. Pull up a bunch of plants and you should see long, pale "stolons" with knobby "nodes" along their lengths. New plants rise from these nodes. In addition to this aggressive growth, wild bergamot will re-bloom if flowers are deadheaded until it produces seed or its growing season is ended with hard freezes.
Observe where it grows. Wild bergamot grows easily in wetlands, prairies and wooded areas in any moist but well-drained soil. It flourishes in sun to part shade. Wild bergamot grows from USDA zone 4 to 8 and is native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. It grows from Canada south to the northern panhandle of Florida.