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Zones 12-30, H1, H2
Full Sun
Regular Water

Salvia coccinea

Tropical Sage
Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Annuals, Perennials


Thought of as drought-tolerant shrubs in much of the West, this huge genus—the largest in the mint family—includes many species of shrubs and perennials that need moderate to regular water. In recent years, scores of new species and selections have appeared in Western nurseries, many tender varieties that are even being offered as annuals in cold-winter climates. All sages have square stems and whorls of two-lipped flowers, either distinctly spaced along flower stalks or so tightly crowded that they look like one dense spike; some species have branched inflorescences. Flower colors range from white and yellow through salmon and pink to scarlet and pure red, from pale lavender to true blue and darkest purple. A few sages have fragrant blossoms. Many have aromatic foliage.

Nurseries in the West offer nearly 100 species as well as dozens of selections and hybrids. Names are often confused; S. x jamensis varieties are often assigned to S. greggii; and S. nemorosa varieties are often interchanged with S. x superba and S. x sylvestris varieties. 

Salvia coccinea

Usually grown as annual in all zones. From Mexico; naturalized and weedy in Hawaii. Bushy, upright; to 2–3 ft. high and 2 1/2 ft. wide. Dark green, hairy, oval to heart-shaped leaves. In summer, slender stems to 1 ft. long carry many 3/4–1-in. flowers with a broad lower lip. Colors range from bright red through orange-red to pink and white, including many bicolors. Widely used as a bedding plant and border filler. Stems are brittle; shelter from the wind. Deadhead to encourage rebloom. If plant lives over, cut back to 4–6 in. when new spring growth begins, then fertilize. By end of second season, the plant will be woody and in decline. Reseeds copiously. Good seed-grown selections include scarlet ‘Lady in Red’ and ‘Spanish Dancer’; salmon ‘Brenthurst’ (‘Lady in Pink’); ‘Coral Nymph’, near white with coral lower lip; and pure white ‘Snow Nymph’.

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