Salvia L.


Lindy Garnett, Graham Ellis, Roger Spencer & Sue Templeton

Latin salvare — to heal, referring to the medicinal properties of S. officinalis.

Mostly perennial and aromatic herbs, subshrubs and shrubs, occasionally annual or biennial herbs. Leaves opposite, usually simple, sometimes lobed or pinnate, the upper ones reduced to bracts, stalked or not. Flower clusters terminal or axillary, of 2 to many-flowered whorls called verticillasters. Flowers with the calyx 2-lipped and teeth unequal, the lower lip deeply 2-toothed, the upper 3-toothed, the middle one often larger than the others. Corolla 2-lipped, the tube straight or curved, shorter or longer than the calyx tube, upper lip variable, hooded, entire or divided, lower lip 3-lobed. Fertile stamens 2, each with 1 fertile cell, infertile stamens 2 or absent. Fruit of 4 ovoid, often 3-angled nutlets.

The largest genus in the family, grown for the wide range of vibrant flower colours (especially the reds and blues) over a long flowering period (sometimes almost year round), the subtropical ones later in the season. Annuals are grown as popular bedding plants. The biennials and herbaceous perennials come mostly from the Old World and generally flower from spring to mid-summer; they are mainly white, mauve, pink, blue or purple (no reds). Non-herbaceous Old World perennials flower mainly in summer in pink, mauve, blue and purple, while smaller, clump-forming perennials flower for long periods in red, blue-purple, orange and yellow. Larger woody shrubs, often with pale or grey leaves come from dry Africa, N America and the Mediterranean and flower from mid- to late summer into autumn mostly in pale colours but with some oranges. Frost-tender, large shrubs to 3 m tall and flowering in winter have gained popularity in Australia in recent years; they generally come from high-altitude tropical South America and Africa and display furry flowers in vivid red, magenta, pink and violet.

Several species have become naturalised and much care is needed to avoid importing and growing plants with weed potential. The most widespread naturalised species at present are S. verbenacea, Wild Sage, in S and E Australia; S. reflexa, Mintweed, in Qld, NSW, Vic and SA (known to poison stock); and S. coccinea in Qld and NSW.

All species may be grown from seed, although herbaceous and woody perennials are generally multiplied by softwood cuttings.

Salvias make good cut flowers, but stems should be recut under water. Sage (S. officinalis) is a culinary and medicinal herb. Several species have highly aromatic leaves which can be dried and used for pot-pourri, they can also be used in cooking (especially S. officinalis), to flavour drinks and make appetising medicinal teas. Aromatic oils are used in soaps and scents, eau-de-Cologne and liqueurs (S. officinalis, S. sclarea); N American species are used by Indian tribes in the production of incense sticks. Seeds are used in drinks, cakes and soups, oil extracts in painting, and the bee-attracting nectar as a source of honey. Other species, notably S. officinalis and S. sclarea, have a range of medicinal uses. S. splendens and S. farinacea are extremely popular annual bedding plants.

Stems and leaves aromatic; fertile stamens 2, each with an elongated connective and fertile anther cell; there are also sometimes 2 infertile stamens. 4 seeds are generally produced per flower.

OPCAA collections are held by the Herb Society of Victoria at the Nobelius Heritage Nsy (about 120 species), Emerald, Vic, and private gardens in Hampton, Vic (about 100 species) and Coldstream, Vic (213 different kinds); also by Sue Templeton, Lavington, NSW (about 160 different kinds).

About 900 species from tropical to temperate regions, often from dry and stony sites and with centres of distribution in the Americas (about 200 species are endemic to Mexico, where they are pollinated by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies), Sino-Himalaya and SWAsia, but not in Australasia except for the species S. plebeia from SE Asia, Qld, NSWand Vic.

Technical: Fernald (1900), Hedge (1955, 1959, 1974), Standley & Williams (1973), Compton (1987, 1994),Wood & Harley (1989), Sernia & Ramamoorthy (1993), Li & Hedge (1994). Popular: Yeo (1995), Clebsch (1997, giving the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart codes to flower colours), Templeton (1997), Sutton (1999).

is complicated by the rapid influx of new material (especially from warm-climate areas such as C and S America). Many species and cultivars are held in specialist collections. The following generalised key is a simple guide to the more commonly grown species.

ANNUALS: Either herbaceous perennials widely used as annual bedding plants, or true annuals dying after one year. S. coccinea, S. farinacea and S. splendens (all used for bedding) and S. viridis.

HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS OF THE OLD WORLD (FLOWERING IN SPRING AND SUMMER): Dying back to a tuberous or fleshy rootstock each autumn. S. azurea, S. coccinea, S. forsskaolii, S. glutinosa, S. guaranitica, S. involucrata, S. lyrata, S. nemorosa, S. patens, S. pratensis, S. uliginosa and S. verticillata.

SHRUBBY SPECIES OF THE AMERICAS: Mostly small evergreen bushes with scented leaves and flowering for more than 6 months. S. apiana (flowering 2-3 months), S. chamaedryoides, S. clevelandii, S. greggii, S. mellifera and S. microphylla.

SHRUBBY SPECIES MOSTLY FROM EUROPE AND AFRICA: S. dolomitica, S. interrupta, S. lanceolata, S. polystachya, S. reptans and S. somalensis.

GREY-LEAVED SHRUBS: Old World grey-leaved shrubs intolerant of water. S. africana-lutea, S. argentea, S. canariensis, S. fruticosa, S. leucophylla and S. officinalis.

SILVER-LEAVED ROSETTE-FORMING BIENNIALS: S. aethiopsis, S. argentea and S. sclarea.

TENDER PERENNIAL SHRUBS FROM HIGH-ALTITUDE SUB-TROPICAL OR TROPICAL AREAS OF THE NEW WORLD (FLOWERING IN WINTER): S. chiapensis, S. coccinea, S. dorisiana, S. elegans, S. gesneriiflora, S. involucrata, S. leucantha, S. mexicana and S. splendens 'Black Knight'.

Source: Garnett, L.; Ellis, G.; Spencer, R.; Templeton, S. (2002). Salvia. In: Spencer, R.. Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 4. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. Part 3. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.

Hero image
kingdom Plantae
phylum   Tracheophyta
class    Magnoliopsida
superorder     Asteranae
order      Lamiales
family       Lamiaceae
Higher taxa
Subordinate taxa
species         Salvia africana-lutea L.
species         Salvia apiana Jeps.
species         Salvia argentea L.
species         Salvia azurea Lam.
species         Salvia chamaedryoides Cav.
species         Salvia chiapensis Fernald
species         Salvia clevelandii (A.Gray) Greene
species         Salvia coccinea Murray
species         Salvia dorisiana Standl.
species         Salvia elegans Vahl.
species         Salvia farinacea Benth.
species         Salvia forsskaolii L.
species         Salvia fruticosa Mill.
species         Salvia gesneriiflora Lindl. & Paxt.
species         Salvia greggii A.Gray
species         Salvia guaranitica Benth.
species         Salvia involucrata Cav.
species         Salvia leucantha Cav.
species         Salvia lyrata L.
species         Salvia mexicana L.
species         Salvia microphylla Kunth.
species         Salvia nemorosa L.
species         Salvia officinalis L.
species         Salvia patens Cav.
species         Salvia pratensis L.
species         Salvia sclarea L.
species         Salvia splendens Roem & Schult.
species         Salvia uliginosa Benth.
species         Salvia verticillata L.
species         Salvia viridis L.