(Big Red Sage) Hummingbirds and butterflies adore the large, deep red blossoms of Salvia penstemonoides, a once rare herbaceous perennial. Its long blooming, super tall flower spikes rise from a basal rosette of lemon-lime fragrant leaves the color of green apples.
Big Red Sage is native to the vast Edwards Plateau of central Texas, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes that Big Red Sage is "endemic to seeps on limestone ledges and banks along streams" of the vast Edwards Plateau in central Texas, which is west of Austin and northwest of San Antonio. It's adaptable to well-drained clay, loam, and limestone soils, needs average watering, and grows well in full sun to partial shade.
Introduced to horticulture in 1845, the sage declined to a point of near extinction in the 20th century. This problem was due in part to development of the Edwards Plateau. But in the early 1980s, Salvia experts began networking to discover small stands of Big Red in the wild. They collected seed and introduced the sage to garden centers.
Erosion, herbicides, and a lowering water table remain threats to this sage. But you can help it survive in your garden.
Special thanks to the Denver Botanical Garden for the use of these photos.
Here are some guidelines for success with this plant in your garden.
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This plant needs or tolerates more than six hours of intense sunlight daily. Many Salvias only thrive in wide-open locations where they receive long hours of full sun. However, full-sun species sometimes tolerate a bit of partial shade. Or a Salvia that loves partial shade may be amenable to spending part of its time in full sun.
In general, this sun/shade adaptability shows up in Salvias that do best in cooler climates when grown in full sun and thrive in hot climates when partial shade is available. So full-sun Salvias sometimes are also categorized as partial-shade plants and vice versa.
This plant can handle extreme heat.
Full-sun Salvias that don’t like any shade are among the most heat tolerant. Heat-loving Salvias also are often drought tolerant. Moisture-conserving features, such as fuzzy leaves, help them stay perky at high temperatures.
Heat-tolerant Salvias are fine choices for western and southern exposures.
To create a harmonious landscape plan, it is important to consider the heights of individual plants.
Height also affects function. Short Salvias often make excellent ground covers that conserve soil moisture and discourage weeds while also brightening your yard. Medium-height Salvias, such as ones 36 inches tall, often are ideal border plants. A tall Salvia planted singly can highlight a landscape; multiple plantings can form an attractive screen.
Plant this herbaceous species in the USDA Zones where it grows as a perennial, returning year after year.
After dying back to the ground at frost, herbaceous perennials emerge in the Spring with soft, new growth. A Salvia that is perennial in one region, may be an annual in another depending on local conditions, such as winter temperatures.
If you live in USDA Zone 5, for example, Salvias in our catalog cited as growing well in Zone 5 or lower will be perennial. Those cited as doing well in Zones 6 or higher may do well in Zone 5, but generally will act like annuals coming back from seed instead of the parent plant’s roots.
By considering the width of a plant, you can determine how many to place in a row or what other plants to grow with it.
For example, a narrow, moderate-height Salvia may look good interplanted with bushier species, kind of like Mutt and Jeff.
In contrast, wide-spreading Salvias are economical for hiding lengths of wall and fence or for creating hedge-like divisions in a yard.
Plant hardiness Zones defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture tell you the minimum temperatures a plant can withstand in your garden. The USDA divides the nation into winter climate areas from coldest (Zone 1) to warmest (Zone 11).
However, it is sometimes possible to grow a Zone 6 Salvia as a perennial in Zone 5 if you provide preferential care, such as winter mulching and a location sheltered from harsh winds. In contrast, a Zone 9 Salvia may act like a perennial in Zone 10 if given a bit of shade or extra water.
This plant needs regular watering based on what is appropriate to your local conditions.
In some extremely hot, arid climates, this may mean daily watering in Summer. Although many drought-resistant Salvias survive on little to no watering due to local rainfall and deep roots meeting their moisture needs, others need regular doses. The size and frequency of the dose depends on your climate.
Honeybees love this plant’s nectar. As a honeybee burrows down into a Salvia’s nectar-rich flowers to reach dinner, it accidentally gathers pollen and drops it on the stigma of that blossom or of ones on other nearby Salvias. Fertilization results in seed production.
By growing honeybee favorites, you attract these helpful pollinators to all your flowering plants and increase productivity
Unless local forage is in short supply, most deer likely will avoid this plant.
It appears that deer dislike Salvias, in general, due to their volatile oils that make the plants so fragrant and savory in cooking. However, the only completely deer-proof plants are the ones grown beyond reach.
Based on our experience and reports from customers, hummingbirds (Trochilidae spp.) love this plant.
Hummingbirds exist only in the Americas where their 300-plus species are particularly fond of the nectar in brightly colored Salvias from the Western Hemisphere. However, if favorites aren’t available, they dine on the nectar of most Salvias.
Hummingbirds repay thoughtful plantings by helping to pollinate your garden
(Cedar Sage) Scarlet flowers abound on this small, mounding, woodland sage that is native to Texas, Arizona and Northern Mexico. Grow it as a small scale groundcover or mix it with other shade-loving sages in a perennial border or along a path.
(Jame Orange Mountain Sage) North Carolina plantsman Richard Dufresne collected this fine variety of Salvia regla near the village of Jame, in central Mexico where the western and eastern Sierra Madre mountains meet.
(Navajo Autumn Sage) Even a hint of blue is unusual among Autumn Sage flowers. Salvia greggii 'Navajo Purple' is a rarity due to its magenta-purple blossoms, which hint at natural hybridization including a mystery parent in the blue range, such as Salvia lycioides.
(Windwalker® Desert Rose Sage) Hot pink flowers top glossy, mid-green foliage top Windwalker® Desert Rose Salvia. Due to drought resistance, Salvia x 'Desert Rose' is a great choice for dry gardens. However, this petite beauty also grows well with moderate watering.
(Windwalker® Royal Red Salvia) Salvia darcyi x S. microphylla 'PWIN03S' is one of the top 2015 plants for USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 5 selected by Colorado's Plant Select®, a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting plants for low-water gardens.