Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea), also known as Crimson Sage
The Salvia (or sage) genus, in the Lamiaceae, or mint, family has over 1000 documented species. Many sage plants are native to California and make beautiful, aromatic additions to the garden that are also water wise and attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Each week we will take a look at one of the common types of sage in the Los Angeles area and how to care for them. Without further ado, may we introduce, Salvia spathacea, the Hummingbird sage!
Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) basics:
- Perennial herbaceous plant
- 1 -3 ft tall, 3 ft wide
- Spreading form
- Moderate growth rate
- Slight fragrance
- Flowers: pink, red
- Boomingseason: winter, spring, summer
This Southern California native is commonly found the Santa Moncia Mountains, Verdugo Hills, San Rafael Hills, Hollywood Hills, Griffith Park, Highland Park, and the western hills of the San Fernando Valley. It’s found beyond these areas too, but we’re keeping it local in this blog.
Hummingbird sage supports many types of beneficial wildlife, such as hummingbirds (hence the name), small birds, butterflies (for their entire life cycle) & moths, and bees. This plant is an important part of our local ecology.
Bright green leaves, 8 – 20 centimeters long in an oblong shape, are wrinkled and have rounded teeth along the edge.
Upright, herbaceous flowering stems form a woody base. The flowering stems tend to be singular, and often do not branch.
Pink to Red flowers often bloom from March to May (however they can bloom for an even larger portion of the year).
This sage is native to Southern and Central California and it makes am excellent garden addition for its beautiful flowers and fruity scent. It tends to grow in the shaded slopes of oak woodlands, chaparral, and coastal sage scrub. This plant spreads by rhizomes (a subterranean stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes), and it has bright green leaves that are very aromatic when crushed or touched. The leaves, like the rest of the plant, are covered with hairs that make it soft to the touch.
Hummingbird sage does best in dry shaded or partly shaded areas. It often does best in full shade, under oak trees or other dense foliage. This sage is very drought tolerant after the first year (once it is established). Often, this plant can make it through summer without any supplementary water, although it sometimes goes semi-deciduous (loses its leaves) without occasional irrigation. For a green plant year-round, it can be watered once or twice a month. Multiple cultivars of the plant can be found.
- Full sun to part shade
- Very low moisture requirements
- Summer irrigation should be at maximum 2x per month, once the plant is established (it will need more water before establishment)
- Tolerates a variety of soils (PH 5 – 7), and prefers medium soil drainage
- It can be used as a large, upright groundcover, it is fairly deer resistant, and it is great for attracting and supporting local birds, and beneficial insects
- Propagation: spreads by rhizomes. For propagation by seed: sow outdoors in early fall
Maintenance: It should be deadheaded (spent flowers removed) and lightly pruned in summer if you would like a neater appearance.
What’s in a Name?
Salvia (genus name) spathacea (species epithet). The genus name ‘salvia’ derives from the Latin word ‘salvere’, which means ‘to feel healthy, to heal’. This is related to the Latin word ‘salus’ (health, well-bring, prosperity or salvation), which ‘savior’ is also related to. ‘Salus’ forms the base for the Latin word, salutare, which was transformed into the Middle English word ‘salute’, which we still use today to show respect and express commendation. This is also the base for the French word ‘santé’, which is the French way of saying ‘cheers’ when giving a toast.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24 – 79), a Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, and naval commander of the Roman Empire (an interesting resume), was the first known author to describe a plant called ‘Salvia’, by the Romans. This is thought to be Salvia officinalis (common sage), which is the type of sage used in cooking.
Pliny the Elder, born Gaius Plinius Secundus, seated in his birthplace, Como, Italy, lost in thought about Salvia.
The common modern English name ‘sage’ comes from the Middle English word ‘sawge,’ which comes from the Old French word ‘sauge,’ (not related to sausage) which comes from the Latin ‘salvus’, or ‘salvere’ (which, again, is the source of the word, ‘salvia’). So, sage and salvia, are two words with the same, or very similar, starting points that took slightly different paths. Sage often refers to Salvia officinalis, which is common sage or culinary sage. The ornamental sages (such as Hummingbird sage), are often referred to by their genus name, ‘Salvia,’ instead of ‘sage,’ which often implies culinary use.
The species epithet (a name identifying a subordinate unit within a genus) ‘spathacea’ is Latin meaning ‘with a spathe’ or ‘broad flat wooden blade.’ ‘Spathacea’ comes from the Greek word, ‘spathakia’, which means sword (the words ‘spathe’ and ‘spade’ also share a common history) . A spathe is a sheathing bract enclosing a flower cluster in certain plants, including Hummingbird sage. A bract is a modified leaf with a flower, or flower cluster, in its axil (diagram below). Bracts, or spathes, can look quite different from one plant to another.
Dark, whorled inflorescence (a cluster where flowers are formed) of spathes on Salvia spathacea.
Are you interested in adding fragrance filled beauty to your landscape? How about looking out over your garden and seeing hummingbirds in the morning sun? How about reducing your water bill with low water use plants? Creative Concepts Landscape has you covered. Contact us today to chat about possibilities for your property!