Monday, May 3, 2010

When the Bloom is on the Sage

The calendar says May, but the hot and humid temperatures say that summer has arrived in Florida. It seems just yesterday we were shivering around the space heaters as we endured the unusually cold winter, but that's definitely behind us now. Due to the surprisingly high amount of rain we got in April, the plants are thriving, including the pink, red, and blue sage we have in the butterfly garden.

Sage is also commonly known by its scientific genus, salvia, and there are many types and colors available. We particularly love tropical or scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), as it is native to Florida and incredibly easy to grow. Tropical sage tolerates light frost and reseeds itself readily, popping up in random places that you don't remember putting it. Butterflies and hummingbirds love its year-round blooms, and gardeners love the fact that it needs almost no attention to thrive once established.

Despite the many great features, you'll generally have to look to native plant nurseries to find this gem - the red salvia offered at most big box stores is actually Salvia splendens. Salvia splendens is a very nice bedding plant, and will bloom happily until a frost, but it does not draw butterflies like the native tropical sage. We learned this last year when we planted a whole row of it, thinking the red flowers would be a magnet for butterflies. I guarantee you, it was not.

However, you may be able to find Salvia guarantica at big box stores, and it's definitely worth planting in a butterfly garden. I purchased several pots at Lowe's the other day of a cultivar called "Black and Blue Salvia". Though this sage is not native, it does well in Florida gardens and draws butterflies like crazy. It is frost-tender, so will die back in the winter, but easily grows back from the ground. It also reseeds readily, so this is another plant you can buy just one or two of and allow to spread throughout an area.

Another blue sage you may come across is Salvia farinacea. It's native to Mexico and Texas, and grows well in Florida. I recently started some of this from seed, a cultivar called Blue Bedding from Burpee. Starting sage from seed is very economical - and easy! Even those of us who don't have much luck starting plants from seed can buy a packet of sage seeds and do pretty well with it.

One other sage you may have noticed lately without even knowing its name is Lyreleaf Sage (salvia lyrata). This wonderful native wildflower is out in droves right now on the side of the road and in ditches. If you see a tall field of purple when you fly past at 60 miles an hour, there's a good chance you're looking at Lyreleaf. If you're lucky enough to have some growing near you, you can gather seed and sow it in your own garden (don't try this on private property, though!) - like all sages, it grows easily from seed.

There are many more kinds of sage out there; many of them are wonderful in a butterfly garden, and nearly all work well in Florida gardens. Do remember to avoid Salvia splendens if you're looking to attract butterflies - it won't do you much good. The other varieties mentioned above are essential to a Florida butterfly garden, and we love having them in My Florida Backyard!


  1. I love salvias. They come in so many different colors and are so tough in the Florida sun. My favorite is Indigo Spires. I also recently discovered the lyre-leaf sage. I'd seen it on the roadside, but didn't know what it was.

    Your garden is blooming just ahead of mine. My passion vine and salvia are just budding out (except where I cheated and bought one already flowering).

  2. I love salvias too. I have 'coral nymph', tropical, forsythia sage, victoria blue, mystic spires, pineapple sage, and one a friend calls "purple salvia". the purple one hasn't bloomed yet. The leaves on it look different from my others. It is supposed to be a hummingbird magnet. I really like the pineapple and coral nymph because they both re-seed everywhere.

  3. Salvia's are great plants. They're drought tolerance and heat resistance makes them the perfect plant for the Florida garden. I just bought a black and blue salvia and am glad to hear the butterflies love it.

  4. You have a great collection of salvias! They are great butterfly plants, aren't they?!! We too seem to be fully immersed in summer after maybe a two-week spring. It's been in the 90's here in the valley for weeks now. And the rain seems to be avoiding my little piece of Earth. But, hey, I'll take summer anyday over that awful winter we had. (from the other Floridagirl)

  5. Great post! As someone who lives in Florida, I love growing Salvia here. Thanks for sharing. WCheck out this site.