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Mimulus are annual or half-hardy perennial plants with showy flowers belonging to the Scrophulariaceae family. Most mimulus are native to the United States and Australia, though several species have naturalized throughout Great Britain. The Mimulus genus consists of more than 150 species of plants, many of which are rare or endangered. They are popular additions to gardens because they bloom throughout much of the spring and summer and are available in many intense colors, including solid or spotted red, yellow, orange, pink and purple.
Mimulus are commonly called monkey flowers, because the blossoms look somewhat like a monkey with an open mouth. They are also known as musk flowers, because of the strong, musklike scent of some of the types of flowers. Plants grow anywhere from a mere 2 inches tall (about 5 cm) to as much as 3 feet (0.9 m), though most varieties are on the shorter side.
The plants will not withstand cold weather and die back to the ground in winter. While they prefer to grow in damp or wet areas, they will survive in average, moist garden soil, where they mix well with snapdragons and pansies. Mimulus will wither in a hot, dry climate and do well in partial shade. They thrive as container plants and look great in hanging pots, where they can spill over the sides, creating a mound of brightly colored flowers.
The easiest way to add these plants to the garden is by transplanting purchased seedlings or plants. Seeds require three weeks of cold treatment before planting and may take several weeks more to germinate. This process should be started in early to midwinter to have blooms the following season. To keep them blooming continuously, the dead flowers should be picked off before they can go to seed.
Aphids love to feed on these types of plants and can promptly destroy them. Aphids can be removed with a strong spray of water and, once they are knocked off of the plants, it is difficult for them to return. For severe cases it may be necessary to use insecticidal soap to eliminate aphids.
One species of this plant, Mimulus guttatus, is used as a natural remedy to treat various types of fear in both humans and animals. It is also said to help combat shyness and nervousness. Every part of the mimulus plant is edible but may taste bitter and salty. Native Americans took advantage of this saltiness and used the mimulus plant to give flavor to the wild game they ate.