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 elegans
Perennial, native to southern Mexico and Guatemala. In the wild, this species is variable in habit, bloom time, and leaf fragrance. The most commonly grown form, ‘Scarlet Pineapple’, grows upright to 3–4 ft. tall and wide, with branching, brittle stems; in part shade, growth is lush and needs support. Densely hairy, bright green leaves to 4 in. long are broadly oval with a pointed tip. Foliage has a strong aroma of ripe pineapple; used in cool drinks and fruit salads. Slender, bright red flowers in loose clusters of 8 to 12 are carried on 6–8-in. stems. In mild-winter areas or indoors, blooms from late fall through spring; elsewhere, it is cut off by frost.
Hybrid ‘Frieda Dixon’ is similar but has pinkish red flowers. ‘Golden Delicious’ grows just 1–3 ft. tall, with yellow-green foliage that makes for an eye-catching contrast with the fire-engine-red flowers; long bloom period. ‘Honey Melon Sage’ grows half as tall as the species and spreads rapidly to form a dense groundcover; it has slightly smaller blooms and smaller, more rounded leaves that smell something like ripe honeydew melon. Blooms from early summer through fall (shear off faded flower stems two or three times a season to produce a new crop). ‘Tangerine’ (‘Scarlet Tangerine’) grows 3 ft. tall and wide, has scarlet flowers.
Dense grower to 5 ft. tall and wide, with bright green leaves and lavender flowers. ‘Lynn&r...
Evergreen or deciduous shrub, native to southwest Texas and north-central Mexico. Rounded plant, branc...
Perennial, native to southern Mexico and Guatemala. In the wild, this species is variable in habit, bl...