The Name of the Sage

Salvia 4

It’s always a thrill to be able to connect a name with a plant. I enjoy being able to identify unknowns for others, and I’m delighted when someone can help me with those I’m puzzled by, but the very best feeling comes from figuring out an ID for myself.

This salvia has been taunting me for months, ever since I grew it from seed back in the spring. I’d ordered it from a seed exchange as a Lepechinia, but on the seed packet, the genus name had been changed to Salvia. Ok, well…I’m always game to try something new, so I sowed the seeds and got a nice crop of sturdy seedlings. Not knowing what exactly to expect, I tried them in a few spots.

In not-great soil, they reached maybe 18 inches in bloom. Not very floriferous, but nice foliage.

Salvia 2

In very rich soil, they shot up to somewhere between 6 and 7 feet.

Salvia 3

Flowering began around late August, with somewhat sparse. clear blue flowers.

Salvia 1

Google was originally of little help in searching for an ID: Try searching for the words blue and salvia and you end up with over a million web references and almost 200,000 images. Most are for either S. farinacea or S. guarantica, but there are also many other salvias with blue flowers. Hmmm.

I decided that my fellow bloggers could probably solve the mystery in minutes, so the orginal draft of this post was my plea for help. I wanted to appeal to fellow salvia-lovers, whom I addressed as “salviaphiles.” Out of curiosity, I tried Googling that term and, among the links to many less-innocent salvia references, happened to spot Robin’s Salvias. A few minutes of clicking through the extensive photo gallery, and whoa! – my mystery plant now has a name: Salvia macrophylla.

Salvia 5

Kind of a let-down, actually. Talk about stating the obvious: wow, it’s a salvia with big leaves; let’s call it Salvia macrophylla. I probably could have figured that out for myself if I’d tried harder. Oh, well. A few other references offer Salvia ‘Peru Blue’ and ‘Tingo Blue’ as synonyms. And now I know it’s not frost-hardy. Apparently there are are two forms: a lower, spreading one that looks like the clump I had in clayey soil and the very upright form that looks like the plants I had in loose, rich soil. I’m not sure if I had two different forms from one seed batch or if (as seems more likely) the soil conditions made a big difference.

It’s not a plant I’d enthusiastically recommend, but if you’re looking for something a little different foliage-wise for containers or borders, if you’re fanatical about true blue flowers, or if you’re a salvia-lover who simply must grow every species you can find, plants are available by mail-order from the good folks at Annie’s Annuals.

17 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on October 31, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Amazing what a dab of good soil can do. This salvia does have a pretty blue color.

    It really is amazing about the soils; Lisa; some plants perform pretty much the same in both of these areas, while others are dramatically different.
    -Nan

  2. WOW – that’s a beauty!

    Robin is quite the expert and I use his gallery all the time. He participates on a gardening forum that I’ve been using for years and is always quick to respond with salvia identifications.

    I’m certainly indebted to him for posting all of those pictures. It would have been worth the visit even if I hadn’t discovered the ID for mine. I saw many other beautiful salvias on his site that I’d never even heard of before. What a great service to other gardeners!
    -Nan

  3. Thanks for letting us know about this site, and plant, Nan. I have a salvia that I am unsure about, called fruit sage. The leaves look sort of like yours, but are highly fragrant, sweeter than pineapple sage, and larger. No flowers, looks like it will frost here before they can form, and they haven’t bloomed in the greenhouse. It might be S dorisiana. Maybe Robin has it too. Love all the Salvias. Salviaholic?

    It does sound like S. dorsiana, Frances – what I’ve heard called fruit-scented sage. I thought at first that might be what I had, except that it had little or no scent. And when I saw the blue flowers, I knew for sure that wasn’t it. Check out Robin’s site and see what you think about yours.

    I’ve flirted in the past with salviaholism and watched some of my gardening friends fall prey to the madness. (From the perspective of plant acquisition, I mean, not in its use.) I think I’m sticking with salviaphile for now.
    -Nan

  4. Posted by ourfriendben on October 31, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Good for you for solving the mystery, Salvia Holmes (er, Sherlock’s smarter younger sister?!)! I’ve grown fruit-scented sage and it really is intoxicating. Fun to grow with and compare to pineapple sage!

    Yeah, you can just call me Sal from now on. Y’all have made me put fruit-scented sage on my must-grow list for next year; it’s been *way* too long since I’ve grown it.
    -Nan

  5. Thanks for the kind comments….enjoy the fruit-scented sage…if it is Salvia dorisiana…it has magnificent pink flowers in winter…but must be frost-free!

    Robin.

    Hey, the man himself! Thanks so much for visiting, and for providing such a useful site, Robin.
    -Nan

  6. I’m a really big salvia lover but I think those leaves would be too big for my garden! So it looks/sounds like there are too many leaves for the amount of blooms, is that right? It is a nice blue color though.

    You hit it exactly, Jean: on these plants, at least, the size and the amount of the flowers didn’t nearly match the mass of foliage. If the flowers *had* been in scale with the leaves, that would be quite a spectacle!
    -Nan

  7. It is a beautiful blue Nan and you can’t beat the big leaves for a little different look…For hardiness and a great blue…I recommend Salvia azurea. Mine was about 5 foot tall, reseeds nicely (good news for seed collectors) and had lovely late season bloom that bees adore. gail

    Oh my – that one looks and sounds like a winner, Gail! I really appreciate the recommendation.
    -Nan

  8. Blue is always a welcome addition to the garden and that is one lovely blue. Wish it had a bigger color impact but the plant is quite interesting. Is it going to maintain a spot in your garden?

    Hmmm…I wouldn’t bother starting it indoors again, but I’ve read that it self-sows readily. If it wants to come back from seed, I’ll let it stay.
    -Nan

  9. Posted by Tiziana Sanna on November 12, 2009 at 5:55 am

    Hi Nancy!

    Mi interessa tantissimo questa Salvia!!! Io ho acquistato un esemplare di Salvia Ianthina durante una manifestazione a Lucca qui in Italia, e sta per fiorire, somiglia tantissimo a questa con foglie grandi e fiori blu ( che ancora non sono sbocciati ) ma quella della tua foto sembra avere le foglie pelose. Avresti qualche semino da mandarmi per caso? Io il posto glielo creo in giardino…..
    Ti seguo sempre e leggo i tuoi libri con avidità!
    Ti abbraccio!

    Hi Tiziana! I was not familiar with Salvia ianthina, so I did a web search for pictures, and it looks beautiful. The Salvia macrophylla was killed by a hard freeze we had recently, but I may be able to salvage some seeds; if I get some, I’ll contact you by e-mail.
    -Nancy

  10. Hi Nancy!

    Grazie per la tua disponibilità! =)
    Nel link che ti ho inserito troverai un topic che ho creato agli inizi dell’anno e che ho aggiornato fino a ieri sera, dove potrai trovare alla fine la foto della mia bellissima Salvia Ianthina.
    Se riesce a fiorire ti conservo dei semi e ci risentiamo.
    Grazie per le continue ispirazione che traggo dai tuoi libri! Ti abbraccio!
    Tiziana

    Thanks for sharing the link, Tiziana. Your salvia has beautiful foliage. If you do get seeds from it and have enough to share, yes, I’d love to try it. And I’m sorry your comment took so long to show up; for some reason, it went into my spam folder.
    -Nan

  11. I’ve never seen that kind of salvia that I can remember. It’s a beauty! I love those big leaves! It’s always good to figure out what you have.

    Oh, I have been wanting to get your new book on perennials, and finally picked it up at a bookstore today. I like the way you have it arranged. I am looking forward to reading it when I’m finished with the book I’m currently reading. I seem to read books only at lunch, because at home, I’m online. LOL

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Kind of you to return the visit, Sue. I hope you enjoy the book!
    -Nan

  12. I grow most sages for the flowers, so I can see that having one that seems to have its huge leaves as its main feature could almost be a disappointment. I agree with everyone, however, in that it’s a really nice blue color. Robin’s salvia site is a terrific resource, isn’t it? I ran across it a while back and use it whenever I run across a seed list that has descriptions of salvia species but no photos. I’m one of those “show me a picture” people, so I always try to visit whenever I’m planning my next salvia to try in the garden.

    Hi there, James. Considering how many pictures are on Robin’s site, it’ll be a long time before you run out of salvias to try.
    -Nan

  13. There has been confusion re Salvia ianthina. I am pretty sure that it is a form of S. guaranitica, more than likely the one we have in the UK as S. guaranitica ‘Blue Enigma’. Bur whatever…it is great!

    Robin.

    Thanks for your insight, Robin. I kind of wondered that when I saw Tiziana’s picture, but I’m hardly qualified to tell most salvias apart just by their foliage. As you said, I’m sure it’s beautiful, regardless!
    -Nan

  14. Hi Tiziana,

    It is thought that the name ianthina is invalid. There is a form of S. guaranitica in Europe which is regularly sold as S. ianthina. Christian Froissart, the French Salvia expert, (author of the book “La Connaissance des Sauges”)suggests ianthina to be an incorrect synonym of guaranitica. Some years ago I bought S. ianthina from a French nursery, and it was exactly the same as S. guaranitica ‘Blue Enigma’.

    Robin.

  15. Hi Robin,

    you are probably right, we will see when it will bloom, among few days.
    In effects the flower is alike entirely to that of the guaranitica, even if the consistence of the leaves is lighter.
    Thanks for the precise statement however, very useful.
    Hi! Tiziana

  16. Thanks for the lead on a salvia with true blue blooms.

    I grow salvias for medicinal purposes. Kitchen sage won’t grow here so I use the ornamentals (all true salvias are safe and the purple-flowered varieties are usually medicinal).

    I’m in that stage of life where women sometimes suffer from night sweats. Sage leaf tea suppresses sweating.

    I’ll have to give this one a try. Imagine all the tea those huge leaves could make.

    I don’t know about the medicinal value of S. macrophylla, but if you try it, maybe you could let us know what you think.
    -Nan

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