Instead of simply waiting and hoping for rain, many gardeners and wildlife lovers in states with recurrent drought choose to increase the number of native plants in their yards. This is especially true of Texas.
Native plants are ones indigenous to your region; they have existed locally since before Columbus stepped on American shores. Native plants and wildlife, including pollinators, coevolved over time to meet each other's needs. Near-native plants from neighboring areas often also appeal to local wildlife.
To help gardeners from Texas and the Southwest who want to create pollinator habitat, Flowers by the Sea (FBTS) ends this article with a list of native Texas Salvias appropriate for wildlife gardens. Almost all are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, and most are agreeable to honeybees -- what we call The Big Three pollinators.
Before you start drafting a garden plan, here is more information about native plants for combating drought and supporting pollinators.
Meeting Each Others' Needs
Scientists theorize that the long thin beaks of hummingbirds -- a Western Hemisphere phenomenon -- developed to access nectar in the deep tubular flowers of North, Central and South America. Consequently, an abundance of tubular flowers coevolved to meet the dietary needs of the birds.
Some flowers evolved in ways that allow them to attract butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds. A good case in point is Autumn Sage ( S. greggii), which is a favorite native species for many Texans.
First, Autumn Sage comes in an array of bright colors, which are necessary to attract The Big Three. Second, the double-lipped, tubular flowers are just deep enough for hummingbird beaks and butterfly tongues but shallow enough for bee burrowing.
Third, the flowers have broad lower petals that allow butterflies and honeybees to perch, which is essential since they can't hover. Fourth, Autumn Sage withstands fluctuations in moisture ranging from drought to heavy downpours (provided soil drainage is good), which are characteristic of Texas.
One of the best resources for identifying native plants -- within Texas and beyond -- is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is part of the University of Texas at Austin.
Please note that in 2014, when we first published the first version of this article, the Wildflower Center divided Texas into six geographical regions for purposes of identifying plants native to those areas. Now, the "Just for Texans" resource list on its Special Collections page provides links to 12 ecoregions. Click on an ecoregion link, and a page opens containing a long, photo-illustrated queue of native plants for that area, including Salvias. The Wildflower Center provides filters for plant characteristics and growing conditions that allow you to further narrow down your search. Filtering for drought tolerance somewhat decreases the choices.
Some Texas natives, such as the blue-flowered, partial-shade groundcover Arizona Blue Sage (S. arizonica), elude this ecoregion sorting system but are acknowledged through a simple search of the Wildflower Center's plant database. It notes the vast, semi-arid western part of the state as being part of the plant's homelands. The Federal Highway Administration includes it on a list of Texas native plants for roadway landscape management in its Environmental Review Toolkit.
Native Salvias for Texas Gardens
Each section of the following list indicates ecoregions of Texas where the plants are found in the wild.
Flaming Reds & Oranges
S. coccinea: Pineywoods, Gulf Prairies, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, South Texas Plains
S. regla: Trans-Pecos
Forest Fire Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea 'Forest Fire') Zones 9 to 11
Give this sage rich, well-drained soil and average watering based on local conditions.
Lady in Red Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red') Zones 9 to 11
This sage enjoys ample moisture, but does fine with average watering. Give it rich, well-drained soil.
Jame Orange Mountain Sage (Salvia regla 'Jame') Zones 7 to 10
North Carolina plant explorer Richard Dufresne found this large-leafed sage near Mexico's village of Jame.
Orange Mountain Sage (Salvia regla 'Royal') Zones 7 to 10
This is our smallest variety of Salvia regla.
S. azurea: Throughout Texas
S. arizonica: West Texas ecoregions
S. pitcherii grandiflora: Throughout Texas (Wildflower Center lists it as variety of S. azurea)
S. texana: Blackland Prairie, Cross Timbers, Edwards Plateau, Rolling Plains, South Texas Plains
Prairie Sage (Salvia azurea) Zones 5 to 9
Given its native status throughout much of America, this one belongs in landscapes nationwide.
Big Pitcher Sage (Salvia pitcheri grandiflora) Zones 4 to 9
This a tall, sprawling sage with large flowers.
Texas Blue Sage (Salvia texana) Zones 6 to 9
Colorful and short, this sage is a good groundcover. It appreciates a bit of partial shade in super hot climates.
Rainbow of Autumn Sage
S. greggii: Cross Timbers, Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos
S. lycioides: South Texas Plains, Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos
Lowrey's Peach Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Lowrey's Peach') Zones 7 to 9
This unusually colored Autumn Sage is named for the famous Texas plantsman Lynn Lowery.
Lipstick Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Lipstick')
This is a very long-blooming sage.
Salmon Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Salmon') Zones 7 to 9
The creamy blossoms of this sage fit well in a pastel garden.
Wild Thing Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Wild Thing') Zones 6 to 10
What can we say? Wild Thing is wildly popular.
Saint Isidro's Sage (Salvia lycioides x greggii 'San Isidro') Zones 6 to 9
This is a dwarf cross of two Texas natives.
S. arizonica: West Texas
S. roemeriana: Cross Timbers, Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos
Arizona Blue Sage (Salvia arizonica) Zones 6 to 11
Aside from being an excellent groundcover, this sage works well in containers. It's a native of dry canyon lands.
Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana) Zones 7 to 9
This widespread woodland groundcover also works well as a container plant.
Two Varieties of a Native Salvia Companion
Anisacanthus wrightii: Central, West, and South Texas
Texas Firecracker (Anisacanthus wrightii) Zones 7 to 11
Although similar in appearance to Bears Breeches ( Acanthus), the Anisacanthus genus doesn't have thorny sepals.
Red Texas Firecracker (Anisacanthus wrightii 'Select Red') Zones 7 to 11
Anisacanthus means "without thorns." The name of this species honors 19th century American botanist Charles Wright who collected plants in Texas.
Questions About Native & Drought-Tolerant Plants
Persistent drought doesn't just kill plants by starving their roots. It also slowly extinguishes their population by causing their pollinators either to die or leave the area due to food shortages. Agriculture, parks, open space and home gardens all are harmed by a shortage of pollinators.
If you have questions about wildlife gardening or Salvias and companion plants that are drought tolerant and native to your region, please contact us. We're always glad to help you and The Big Three.