Cloud forests form on mountaintops worldwide. Some of the best-known ones in the Western Hemisphere are found in Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America. They are troves of plant diversity and major sources of oxygen production.
Plants from these misty, montane forests love humidity and partial shade. Many are well adapted to life in temperate climates, especially in areas with moderate year-round temperatures and plentiful fog, such as along our Mendocino coastline.
Due to their elevation, cloud forests are cooler than tropical rainforests. Instead of gaining their moisture from rain, plants in these areas absorb moisture from the clouds surrounding them similar to Northern California plants that quench themselves on fog drip.
Despite major differences in altitude, the growing conditions in Mediterranean coastal climates approximate the growing conditions in cloud forests. This is especially true where temperatures are cool-to-moderate, fog is plentiful and low evaporation occurs, such as in San Francisco.
Aside from loving moisture, cloud forest plants often prefer rich soil. Flowers by the Sea raises a variety of cloud-forest species, including Salvias and orchids. Cloud forests worldwide are suffering from deforestation and global warming. By growing their plants, you help preserve biodiversity.
(Big Mexican Scarlet Sage) This heavily blooming Salvia from Mexico has heart-shaped leaves and spectacular flower spikes up to 18 inches long from winter through spring. The blooms are bright red-orange with rich purple-black calyxes.
(Cabrillo Giant Yellow Sage) Large apricot-yellow flowers are an attraction of this cross between two Mexican species -- Salvia madrensis (Forsythia Sage) and the volcanic sage Salvia gesneriiflora (Mexican Scarlet Sage).
(Ground Ivy Sage) Native to Central Mexico's highlands, this creeping perennial grows at a altitudes of more than 10,000 feet and can handle some chill. Its common name comes from its scalloped yellow-green leaves, which resemble Ground Ivy or Glechoma.
(Gravid Sage) This tender perennial from Michoacan, Mexico, has large, rich magenta flowers that hang from the arching branches in clusters up to 12 inches long. Growing up to 5 feet tall, this sage offers an unforgettable display when in bloom.
(Peruvian Bush Sage) In 1853, Polish botanist and South American plant explorer Józef Warszewicz (1812-1866) found this superb sage with its giant clusters of reddish-orange flowers in the high elevation Cajamarca region of Peru. He sent a sample to German botanist Eduard August von Regel (1815-1892), who named it for for Swiss naturalist Oswald von Heer (1809-1883).
(Winter Mexican Sage) Call it the Snow Queen! From fall through spring, this graceful, colorful sage blooms through 20 degree F weather despite snow and ice. It has lovely, small, dark green leaves and profuse clusters of tubular, cinnabar-red flowers that puff out in the center.
(Scandent Mexican Sage) Here's another winter-blooming hummingbird magnet for gardens in mild climates. This one is scandent, which means it is a climber and needs support. Its abundant, purple-to-magenta flowers are velvety and 6 inches long.
(Violet Calyx Sage) Here's another abundantly blooming sage from the cloud forest slopes of Chiapas, Mexico. Violet beelines mark the lower lip of the crimson blossoms, which are so numerous that it can be difficult to see the foliage at times.
(Karwinski's Sage) From moist mountain areas in Mexico and Central America, this rugged, winter-blooming shrub is found in oak or pine forests at altitudes of 4,000 to 8,000 feet. This may account for this winter bloomer's ability to produce some bright, brick-red flowers even during short periods of freezing weather with temperatures as low as 20 degrees F.
(Giant Karwinski's Sage) San Francisco arborist and gardener extraordinaire Ted Kipping developed this tower of creamy pinkalicious power that hummingbirds love. It's lush with bright green leaves that are large, pebbly and hairy on the underside.
(Giant Colombian Red Mountain Sage) In 1898, physician and medical plant researcher Henry Hurd Rusby (1855-1940) found this towering sage with large, deep red flowers in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia.
(Forysthia Sage) This statuesque perennial grows up to 10 feet tall, but spreads only 3 feet wide. It is a late bloomer from Mexico's Sierra Madre Oriental mountains where it grows at altitudes of 4,000 to 5,000 feet and tolerates temperatures down to 20 degrees F.
(Red Stem Forsythia Sage) The thick, square, red stems of this variety of Forsythia Sage make it conspicuously different from the species and from everything else in your garden. Its jointed stalks look a little like rhubarb gone mad!
(Silver Leaf Forysthia Sage) It's the foliage of this clone that makes it so different from its parent plant. The leaves are a lovely silver and smaller than the green leaves of the species. However, they both have buttery yellow, Forsythia-like blossoms.
(Fuzzy Bolivian Sage) Large, bright and fuzzy, the cherry-licorice red flowers of this sage top what at first glance appears to be smooth, glassy green foliage. Up close, the large, lance-shaped leaves are velvety with clear-to-white hairs.
(Bolivian Mountain Sage) Neon lilac-pink flowers light up the handsome, furry foliage of this distinctive sage from high in the Andes cloud forests. Its large, textured leaves have dark, velvety purple undersides. Unhappy in dry heat, this is a very showy plant for humid climates.
(Venezuelan Red Sage) Purple stems and calyxes so dark that they almost look black contrast dramatically with the deep red-orange flowers of this South American beauty. This tall, spectacular sage has been in cultivation for decades but is still rare in gardens. We'd like to see that change.
(Rosy Bract Sage) Sub-shrub salvias have both woody and soft, herbaceous growth. Rosy Bract Sage is a tidy, small leafed sub-shrub smothered with large clusters of 1/2-inch, violet-blue flowers and rosy red bracts. Its bracts deepen in color as the season proceeds.
(Arrowleaf Sage) Brilliant royal blue flowers and unusual foliage attract the eye to Arrowleaf Sage. This large herbaceous perennial is found at elevations up to 10,500 feet in the Cordillera de los Andes of Chile, Ecuador and Peru.
(Smith College Mystery Sage) This mysterious species came to us via Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. We refer to it as "Mystery Sage" as the origins of this fine plant are unclear.
(Giant Brazilian Sage) Yes, this one is gigantic. The first season we grew this heat-tolerant sage, it reached 8 feet tall by July! Masses of small, red-orange, trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds and honeybees to long, upward curving flower spikes towering over heart-shaped foliage.
(Tubular Chilean Sage) Foggy days and moderate temperatures are the norm for this low-altitude, coastal mountain sage from northern Chile and Peru. It is grown as much for its handsome foliage as for the deep cranberry of its tiny, tubular flowers.