Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha), also known as Velvet Sage, or simple Mexican Sage, cascading over a planter bed
Welcome back for the second installment in our series about common sage varieties in Southern California. The Salvia (or sage) genus, in the Lamiaceae, or mint, family has over 1000 documented species. Many sage plants are native to California (however not the Mexican sage) 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. And on we go to meet Salvia leucantha, the Mexican bush sage!
Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha) basics:
- Perennial herbaceous plant
- 3 -4 ft tall, 4 -6 ft wide
- Spreading form
- Fast growth rate
- Slight fragrance
- Flowers: purple to white
- Blooming season: late summer through fall (sometimes year-round)
Mexican bush sage is native to subtropical and tropical conifer forests in central and eastern Mexico, however it grows very well throughout the Los Angeles area and is prized for it’s beauty in cultivated gardens.
A conifer forest in the Sierra Juarez mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico. Salvia leucantha is native to this region.
Although not native to our region (Southern California), Salvia leucantha attracts beneficial pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds, making it a symbiotic addition to our local landscape.
Salvia leucantha’s leaves (usually 3 – 4 inches) are in a linear-lanceolate shape (finely wrinkled) with a mid-green, sometimes slightly silver, or grey, color. They tend to have whitish, hairy undersides.
The young, upright stems tend to be covered in woolly white hairs, making this one of the more pleasant plants to, carefully, run your hands over.
Purple to white flowers often bloom from late summer through fall (sometimes longer). These charismatic flowers make Salvia leucantha one of the favorites in water wise Southern California gardens. Actually, one of the favorites in any garden!
Salvia leucantha’s velvety flowers form in rings around the stem and extend 6 to 12 inches at the branch tips. Because these flowers form well above the foliage, and have a long blooming period, they are particularly showy and eye-catching. Although not native, this salvia can be grown in most Los Angeles area habitats, given certain soil and light conditions (discussed in the Landscape Information section below).
In parts of East Africa Salvia luecantha has escaped cultivation, forming dense growths that have a negative impact on native plants and the fauna supported by those natives. It is considered invasive. One ecology’s beautiful garden plant might be another ecology’s invasive weed. Salvia leucantha is also considered invasive in the Canary Islands, so don’t try to bring it along on your island getaway…
Saliva leucantha has low water needs, making it a great addition to a water wise landscape. In fact, due to its fast growth rate, it is often best to water it sparingly, to help control rampant growth. Much like other salvia plants, it can survive through a Southern California summer without supplemental water (once established), however it will show some signs of drought stress. It is a hardy plant, staying evergreen to as low at 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It does best in full sun, but can survive in partially shaded areas.
- Full sun is best, but it can handle some shade (although it will not be as full and lush)
- Low moisture requirements
- Summer irrigation should be at maximum 1x to 2x per month, once the plant is established (it will need more supplemental water before establishment)
- Tolerates a variety of soils (PH 4.5 – 8) and prefers well draining soil, however it can tolerate heavier soils
- It can be used as a large, upright groundcover, is fairly deer and rabbit resistant, and is great for attracting and supporting butterflies, pollinators, and beneficial insects.
- It is a great companion plant for mixed planter beds, or as a stand alone piece, showcasing its beautiful blooms
- Fertilizer: generally fertilizer is not needed, however you can add a general purpose (12-12-12) fertilizer annually before new shoots emerge in spring
- Propagation: it can be propagated by seed or from cuttings taken in late summer/early fall
Maintenance: This is a low maintenance plant. Let the plant grow most of the year and then cut back annually in late winter. It will grow back, and when it does, it will have a neater appearance. Trim older flowers once they begin to weight down the stems, and remove spent flowers to promote new blooms. This will encourage more upright growth and, once again, keep the appearance well cared for.
If you want a denser, more compacted growth habit, shear back the plant two or three times during the spring and summer.
Dense, flowering growth habit of Salvia leucantha
What’s in a Name?
We covered the name ‘Salvia’ in our first Salvia blog post – the Hummingbird Sage – check that out towards the bottom of that page.
‘Leucantha’ comes from the combination of two Greek words, ‘leucos’ (or leuko/leukos) meaning ‘white,’ or ‘bright,’ and ‘anthos’ meaning flower. Although Salvia leucantha’s flowers are often purple, they usually have white flowers interspersed, hence the name.
The given name, ‘Luke,’ also shares its origin with ‘Leukos,’ and means ‘light.’ And, Luke, of Luke Skywalker fame, was named ‘Luke’ specifically because it means ‘light.’ Hey, he saved the galaxy from the ‘darkside’ which, as we now know, is the opposite of the ‘lightside’ or, we could say, “lukeside.”
Luke, aka Light, aka Leukos, aka Leucos, the cousin of ‘Leucantha’ says, “Ta da”
‘Antho,’ meaning ‘flower,’ is a particularly common name in botany, as you can probably imagine. Do you know anyone with a particular, or perhaps peculiar, obsession with flowers? They might have a clinical case of ‘Anthomania,’ which, we here at Creative Concepts Landscape, highly encourage.
Thank you for joining us again in this week’s horticultural adventures. Please come back next Wednesday for our next installment, and, as always, contact us for all your landscape needs, including new planter beds featuring the ever lovely, Salvia leucantha, the Mexican bush sage!