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 guaranitica
Perennial, often grown as an annual in colder climates; from South America. Upright, branching plant to 4–5 ft. tall and nearly as wide. Spreads by short underground runners; roots form tubers resembling small sausages. Narrowly heart-shaped, sparsely hairy, mint green leaves to 5 in. long. Blooms from early summer to frost. The most common form bears 2-in. cobalt blue blossoms, carried several to each foot-long stem; calyxes are bright green, turning purplish on sunny side. Needs support. Where it grows as a perennial, it gets woody by season’s end—but that wood dies during winter and must be cut back to the ground. Elegant container plant. Can be demolished by Mexican giant whitefly. Tolerates partial shade, especially in hottest climates. ‘Argentine Skies’ has light blue flowers. ‘Black and Blue’ bears blossoms that are deep blue with dark purplish blue calyxes.
Dark purple flowers with nearly black calyx bloom constantly from early spring until frost. ‘Amistad’ is more compact and has a fuller habit then other guaranitica types. Flowers are a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. From the Sunset Western Garden Collection.
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