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10 Popular Species of Salvia

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Salvia is quite a large genus of plants that includes annuals, perennials, and even shrubs. There are more than 1,000 species in the genus, many of which carry the common name “sage” and dozens of which are common garden plants.

The Salvia genus fits into the mint (Lamiaceae) family of plants, and, predictably, many of these species have a strong, pleasant scent, making them attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. While most salvia species are technically perennials, some of the most popular are more often planted as annuals in colder regions. The majority of salvia plants are known for their long bloom period, which sometimes can extend from late spring all the way into fall. If nothing else, these plants are guaranteed to inject dependable color into your garden design.

Here are 10 popular salvia species to consider for your garden.

Gardening Tip

Salvia plants are known to thrive in dry, even rocky, soil, so they can be a good choice if you have poor soil. They’re extremely easy to care for, but keep in mind that salvias won’t do well in wet, boggy conditions.

Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)

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The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

A familiar plant, scarlet sage, also known simply as red salvia, is technically a tropical perennial, but it’s more commonly grown as an annual. The species has bright scarlet flowers, but there are also cultivars that offer white, salmon, pink, lavender, burgundy, and orange blossoms. These workhorses bloom from June all the way to frost. Scarlet sage is used so often that many people consider it dull, but, if you need to inject a splash of red into a sunny landscape, few plants outperform this one.

  • Native Area: Brazil
  • USDA Growing Zones: 10–11 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
  • Height: 12–24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial

Mealycup Sage (Salvia farinacea)

Mealycup sage comes in a variety of blue, purple, and lavender cultivars, including the popular Victoria Blue and Evolution. The former has genuinely blue flowers, which is somewhat unusual and thus highly desirable. Mealycup sage has an even longer bloom period than scarlet sage, producing flowers from May until frost.

  • Native Area: Texas, Mexico
  • USDA Growing Zones: 7–11 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
  • Height: 1–3 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial

Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea)

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The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

Texas sage is another red-flowered salvia, but there are also cultivars of it with pink and coral blooms. Summer Jewel Pink, one of the prettiest salvias, is a smaller plant (20 inches) that blooms with dainty but profuse flowers from late spring to early fall. It’s most commonly grown as a perennial in warm climates but can also be used as an annual if seeds are started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost.

  • Native Area: Southern United States, Mexico
  • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
  • Height: 1–2 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial

Woodland Sage (Salvia nemerosa)

Woodland sage, also known as violet sage, is a perennial salvia that blooms in various hues of purple and lavender from June to September. These vigorous plants bear lance-shaped leaves and many spikes of purplish-blue blooms. Many gardeners deadhead the spent flowers (or trim them with pruning shears), but they sometimes bloom throughout the summer even without deadheading. Removing the spent flowers keeps the plant looking tidy. Popular cultivars include ‘Marcus’, ‘Caradonna’, ‘Sensation’, and ‘Blue Hill’.

  • Native Area: Europe, west-central Asia
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
  • Height: 8–24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)

Autumn sage is a perennial, shrubby salvia plant that blooms with hot pink flowers from summer through early fall. Two popular cultivars are Wild Thing, which has pink-hued flowers and is considered a more cold-hardy plant, and Raspberry Delight, which has deeper pink blooms. In very hot climates, this plant will appreciate a bit of afternoon shade. Like other salvias, autumn sage will attract bees and butterflies to your garden.

  • Native Area: Texas, northern Mexico
  • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
  • Height: 2–3 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full

Wood Sage (Salvia x sylvestris)

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By Eve Livesey / Getty Images

In addition to the popular salvia species and their cultivars, there are also hybrid salvias, such as Salvia x sylvestris, commonly known as wood sage. This plant is a cross between S. nemorosa and S. pratensis. A very popular cultivar of this hybrid is ‘May Night’ (Mainacht), which blooms with blue-violet flowers from May to June. Another good cultivar is ‘Pink Dawn’, a shorter plant (18 inches) with pink flowers.

  • Native Area: Hybrid; parent species native to Europe, western Asia
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
  • Height: 18–24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full

Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Common sage, the familiar culinary herb, is also a member of the Salvia genus. This woody-stemmed perennial, which will sprawl unless it receives full sun, works both in herb gardens or as an ornamental plant in border gardens or rock gardens. The lavender-blue flowers bloom on spikes in June.

  • Native Area: Mediterranean, North Africa
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
  • Height: 24–30 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

Pineapple sage is a shrubby, tender perennial that earns its name from its pineapple-like scent, which is evident when the leaves are crushed. Wispy scarlet flowers bloom from late summer to mid-fall. Some gardeners grow this salvia plant in containers and overwinter them indoors. It tolerates light shade and prefers very warm climates.

  • Native Area: Mexico, Guatemala
  • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
  • Height: 3–4 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

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Photos Lamontagne / Getty Images

An evergreen perennial with a shrubby growth habit, Mexican bush sage blooms with purple or white-and-purple flowers from late summer until frost. The blossoms are unusually attractive and profuse, making this salvia plant a favorite for late-season container gardens. Butterflies and hummingbirds are very fond of this species, which has velvety, grayish-green leaves.

  • Native Area: Central America, Mexico
  • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10 (grown as an annual elsewhere)
  • Height: 2–3 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full

Diviner’s Sage (Salvia divinorum)

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David J. Stang/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Diviner’s sage, known among its enthusiasts simply as “salvia,” is rarely grown as an ornamental. While it has attractive purple flowers, the plants don’t bloom readily, and the stalks are prone to breaking. But this salvia is nonetheless very popular among certain individuals, thanks to a substance contained in the leaves that produces hallucinations. The plant has a long history of use by shamans of the Mazatec tribes of southern Mexico, who used the leaves to produce a potion used in divination ceremonies.

This salvia rarely produces viable seeds, so those who seek to grow it usually obtain plant cuttings or buy live plants from online vendors. The legal status of diviner’s sage is evolving: The plant is now illegal in some U.S. states and decriminalized in others. But, before growing it, always check your state laws.

  • Native Area: Southern Mexico
  • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
  • Height: 3–5 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full

The large Salvia genus includes many long-flowering species that are valuable garden plants. Here are 10 salvia species to consider for your garden.

Potent Salvia Plant Strains

Salvia (Salvia sivinorum) is a plant of the mint family. It is unique in that it has hallucinogenic qualities similar to those of some mushrooms and has even been compared to LSD. As of June 2010, it is not illegal to grow, consume or sell in many parts of the United States. Keep in mind that in the states of Delaware, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, among others, salvia is legally a controlled substance. Salvanorin A is the compound that decides how strong the salvia’s effect will be but there has been little study into the differences in potency of the strains of the salvia plant.

Wasson and Hoffman strain

Wasson and Hoffman was one of the first strains collected in 1962 by ecologist Sterling Bunnell and mis-attributed to Wasson-Hoffman. This is one of the most common strains of clone and the most readily available. The Blosser palatable clone is said to be almost identical to Hoffman-Wasson except for a slightly less bitter taste, thus “palatable.” Wasson and Hoffman was the original strain first taken from Mexico and the name “Wasson and Hofmann” was first applied to the strain in 1992. Wasson-Hoffman is considered the most consistently potent strain of Salvia divinorum although there have been few scientific studies of the potency of Salvinorum A, the hallucinogenic compound.

Appalossa

Appalossa is known as “the lost clone.” Discovered in 1999, it originated as a sport or mutation cutting from an otherwise normal Wasson and Hofmann clone. While the cause has not been explained, it is possible that Appalossa was a chimera, an individual containing genetically different tissues resulting from a somatic mutation. It was very distinctive from most strains of salvia, which look almost identical with leaves marked with patchy white or pale-green areas and white striping on the stems. Appalossa myth has it that its discoverer “The Sage Student” initially thought it was a diseased plant and threw it away. He only later realized that it was a new strain and rescued it from the patch of poison ivy where he had thrown it.

Salvia divinorum is an interesting plant that almost never produces viable seeds. New plants are grown from cuttings and are essentially clones, so when a viable seed grows into an actual plant it becomes a unique strain. Luna was found in Hawaii in a patch of Hofmann and Wasson of Salvia divinorum clones. It is the only clone strain besides Appalossa to have a distinctive “look.” It has round, moon-shaped leaves with serrated edges. It was found by Daniel Seibert in 1994. Luna is most likely grown from a seed and is genetically unique.

Potent Salvia Plant Strains Salvia (Salvia sivinorum) is a plant of the mint family. It is unique in that it has hallucinogenic qualities similar to those of some mushrooms and has even been