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Salvia leucantha

Mexican Bush Sage, Velvet Sage
Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Evergreen, Shrubs


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 leucantha

Evergreen shrub, from central and eastern Mexico. Vigorous, upright, velvety plant to 3–4 ft. tall and 3–6 ft. or more wide; sprawls in bloom. Lance-shaped to linear leaves are dark grayish green above, whitish below. Stems to 1 ft. long bear whorls of 3/4–1 1/4-in. white flowers with purple calyxes. Bloom period runs from fall through spring in mild-winter areas, stops with frost in colder climates. To limit plant size and renew flowering stems, cut back close to the ground before spring growth begins or at end of bloom cycle; where the growing season is especially long, cut back again in early to midsummer. Also limit watering to every 2 or 3 weeks and remove blossoms as soon as they fade.

‘Midnight’ (‘Purple Velvet’), considered by many to be the best-looking form, has purple flowers and calyxes. ‘Santa Barbara’ has similar flowers but is a compact grower to just 2 1/2 ft. high and 3–4 ft. wide. ‘Waverly’ is a hybrid that grows to 5 ft. tall, with white flowers. It is hardy only to about 25°F (–4°C).

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