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 microphylla
Evergreen shrub, from southeastern Arizona through southern Mexico, with many local variant forms.
‘Belize Form’ (5 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide) is long-blooming but more tender, with bright green leaves and brilliant red flowers. ‘Berzerkeley’ (2 ft. tall and 3–4 ft. wide) bears glowing pinkish red blossoms. ‘Hot Lips’ is upright, to about 1 1/2–2 ft. tall, with striking flowers that vary from fire engine red to white to red-and-white bicolors throughout the growing season. ‘San Carlos Festival’ (2–3 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide) has pink flowers.
Hybrids with S. greggii include vigorous ‘Maraschino’, 3–4 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, with bright cherry red flowers; and purplish pink ‘Plum Wine’, 3–4 ft. tall and 2 1/2–3 1/2 ft. wide. S. m. microphylla (S. grahamii) is a tough, dense, wiry-looking plant to 3–4 ft. tall and 3–6 ft. wide. Triangular to oval, tooth-edged leaves are dark green, 1/2–1 in. long. Rosy red, 1-in. flowers have a small, hooded upper lip and three-lobed lower lip. Blooms most heavily in late spring and fall, sporadically at other times of year. S. m. neurepia grows to 3–5 ft. tall and wide. More open-branched plant than S. m. microphylla, with brilliant red, very long-blooming flowers.
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