COMMON NAME: salvia
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
S. splendens-popular bedding plant grown as an annual. S. superba ‘Blue Queen’-perennial; short spikes of deep violet flowers. S. haematodes-perennial; to 36 inches; sprays of lavender flowers.
TYPE: annual and perennial
DESCRIPTION: Both annual and perennial salvias are characterized by attractive spikes of flowers. The bedding-plant salvia produces brilliant spikes of red flowers above dark green leaves. The annual salvia also can be found in white and dark purple. Given sufficient moisture through the growing season, these plants can reach a height of 30 inches.
CULTIVATION: Both annual and perennial forms of salvia need full sun and well-drained soil. Set plants out after the last spring frost, or sow seeds indoors six to eight weeks before setting them out. In hot areas, these plants might do best with a bit of afternoon shade.
The genus Salvia is a very large one and includes several aromatic herbs used extensively in cooking. The red garden salvia was considered too intensely colored for the tastes of most English gardeners, so it was exported to the United States, where it gained great popularity. The blue salvia, S. patens, was first found growing in Mexico and was taken to England in 1838.
The name salvia is from the Latin word for “safe” or “healthy,” because salvia was used as medicine for many years. The common name sage is from the same origin. It was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus and the Roman god Jupiter. Sage was used for problems of the liver, stomach, heart, and blood, and was used to cure epilepsy, fever, and the plague. Sage was said to have its hidden dangers as well, for an ancient superstition said that a woman who drank salvia cooked in wine would never be able to conceive.
The bright blossoms of the plant were used as a dye and are good for attracting hummingbirds.