When a plant is called by two different names, it can be confusing. Since I’ve heard Sage and Salvia applied to the same plants, I got curious to know if there is a difference between the two. So I decided to investigate.
This post will be considerably longer than most. But I hope you find my results as fascinating as I did. Many of you are well versed in this information, so thank you for your indulgence.
Mealy blue sage, Mealy sage, Mealycup sage, or Blue Salvia is in the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. Bees love it.
The botantical name is Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’. Like other non-scientific types, when I hear the Latin names, I have flashbacks to high school biology that brings shivers down my spine.
But these scientific names is key to understanding the question about sages and salvias.
The plant classification system used today was developed by a Swedish Scientist, Carolus Linnaeus, in the 1700’s. He put plants into groups based on similarity of form. The categories for living things are Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Series, Family, Genus, Species, and Variety.
Only Genus and Species concern us to answer our question about sages and salvias. These two names are the ones listed for each plant. The first name is the genus and should be capitalized. The second name is the species name and is not capitalized. Sometimes a variety follows the species name to show a slight difference from the classified plant.
The answer to the question: A sage can be a salvia, but not all sages are salvias. Let’s see why.
Salvia is the largest genus of plants in the Lamiacae or mint family with nearly 1,000 species of shrubs, herbaceous, perennials, and annuals.
If a sage is the same as a salvia, it must be in the same salvia genus. There is no genus for sage.
This is Texas Sage, also known as Purple Sage, Cenizo, Texas ranger, Texas Barometer bush, Texan Silverleaf, and Silverleaf. This is the sage that is most associated with the Southwest and is the one referred to by Zane Grey in Riders of the Purple Sage.
This sage is also in the Lamiaceae or Mint Family. But its botanical name is Leucophyllum frutescens. So the Purple Sage is not a salvia. Although it is in the same family, it is not in the same genus.
Although many of us grow this sage in mid to north Texas, it is not winter hardy and must be cut to the ground if freeze damage occurs. It does better farther south than my zone 7b area.
One of the most popular sages the past few years and readily available in most nurseries is Salvia greggii. They are available in different shades of red – such as Cherry, Navajo Bright Red. There is even one called Lipstick.
Did you notice the word Salvia in its name? So this sage is a salvia.
These are perennials that are drought tolerant and visited frequently by bees and other propagators. Salvias are hot weather plants with square stems. Many bloom from spring through first frost. They do need some water to look their best.
Many salvias are scented, have flowers that grow on tall spikes above the foliage, and are attractive to many pollinators.
A sage that I love that is not a salvia is Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). Its scent when leaves are rubbed is one of its great characteristics.
Bees love Russian Sage. It is hardy and has a long blooming season.
Another sage that loves our climate is Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha). It, too, is a sun lover.
Did you automatically look at the genus name? I’m training myself to do that.
Hummingbirds feast on it. One of the things I like about it is the velvety look, which is actually tiny hairs that cover it. These hairs help reduce water loss.
It’s a perennial that must have plenty of sun. It tends to get leggy and some branches can break if they get too heavy with flowers. Just trim it as necessary.
This is Prairie Sage, Pitcher Sage, Azure Sage, Giant blue Sage, or Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) It’s another good plant for Central Texas and even further west. Salvia flowers come in shades of blue, red, white, and yellow, although rarely yellow.
The defining characteristic of the genus Salvia is the unusual pollination mechanism. Salvias have two stamen rather than the four of most flowers. The covering of each stamen is divided down the center, but connected. When a pollinator enters the flower probing for nectar, which is found deep in the flower, this pushes the posterior anther. This causes the stamens to move up, which then deposits the pollen on the back of the bee or other pollinator.
As the pollinator withdraws from the flower, the lever returns the stamen to its former position. Then when the pollinator goes to another flower, the pollen can only be transferred if the flower’s stigma is bent down in a general location that corresponds to where the pollen was deposited on the pollinator’s body.
This gorgeous photo and the next one by Dave Leiker show the stamen lever mechanism in action.
This Big Mexican Sage or Roseleaf Sage (Salvia involucrate ‘Hadspen’) grows in zones 7 to 11. Another salvia on my wish list.
Most salvias and sages do well in Texas. Generally, most salvias need minimal water and soil that drains well. Also, cutting them back slightly, about a third, in mid summer brings new blooms.
There are even a few tropical salvias and some that survive in colder climates.
So science really is the answer to the question “Is it a sage or a salvia?”. Both names can apply to the same plant if the genus is salvia. If the genus is different, it’s only a sage.
Both sages and salvias are terrific plants for most of Texas and many other parts of the US.
Thank you for taking the time to read this far. You are great to have persevered. Please leave comments if you have other information about this subject.
Following my usual closing with a quote is a list of different salvias and sages. Whenever I could find the information, I listed the hardiness zones. Maybe you’ll find one that you’d like to try.
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny …’” Issac Asimov
Lamiacea Family (mint family) Genus Salvia:
Arizona sage, Desert indigo sage – Salvia arizonica
Zone 5 – 7
Autumn Sage, Cherry sage, Gregg salvia – Salvia greggii
Zone 7 – 9
Belize Sage – Salvia miniata Zone 10 – 11
Bi Color– Salvia sinaleoensis Zone 8
Big Mexican Sage, Roseleaf Sage – Salvia infovucrate Zone 7 – 11
Big red sage, Penstemon sage – Salvia penstemonoides Zone 6 – 10
Black sage, California black sage – Salvia mellifera Zone 6 – 10
Black & Blue Sage, Brazilian Sage, Blue Anise Sage, Majestic Sage – Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’ Zone 8 – 11
Baby Sage – Salvia microphylla Zone 7 – 11
Blue sage – Salvia pachyphylla Zone 6 – 9
Blue Shrub Sage – Salvia ballotaeflora Zone 7 – 11
Bog Sage – Salvia uliginosa Zone 6 – 10
California sage, Chia Golden chia – Salvia columbariae Zone 7 – 10
California white sage, White sage – Salvia apiana Zone 9 – 10
Canyon sage – Salvia lycioides Zone 6 – 9
Cedar sage – Salvia roemeriana Zone 7 – 10
Clary Sage – Salvia viridis All US zones
Clary Sage – Salvia horminum Zone 3 – 10
Clustered sage – Salvia whitehousei Texas native Zone unknown
Creeping sage – Salvia sonomensis Zone 7 – 10
Crimson sage – Salvia henryi A. Gray Texas native
Death Valley Sage, Woolly sage – Salvia funereal Grows near Death Valley
Desert indigo sage, Arizona sage – Salvia arizonica Zones 6 – 11
Engelmanns sage – Salvia engelmannii Zone 7 – 9
Fragrant sage, Blue sage, Cleveland sage – Salvia clevelandii Zone 8 – 10
Fushia Sage – Salvia iodantha Zone 8 – 11
Grey Shrub Sage – Salvia chamedryoides Zone 7 – 10
Indigo Spires – Salvia ‘indigo spires’ Zone 7 – 11
Isla Hummingbird sage, Pitcher sage, Crimson Sage – Salvia spathacea Zone 7 – 11
Indigo Spires Sage – Salvia Indigo Spires Zones 7 – 11
Lanceleaf sage, Mintweed – Salvia reflexa unknown zones
Lemmon’s sage – Salvia lemmonii unknown zones
Lyreleaf sage, Cancer weed – Salvia lyrata L. unknown zones
*Mealy blue sage, Mealy sage Mealycup sage, Blue Salvia – Salvia farinacea Zone 7 – 11
*Mexican Bush Sage – Salvia leucantha Zone 8 – 10
Mountain sage, Royal Sage – Salvia regal Tropical zones
Munz’s sage San Miguel mountain sage, San Diego Sage – Salvia munzii Zone 8 – 11
Nettleleaf sage, Nettle-leaved sage, Wild sage – Salvia urticifolia L. SE US
Pineapple Sage – Salvia elegans Zone 8 – 11
Pink Little Leaf Sage – Salvis Grahamii Zone unknown
Pitcher sage, Big blue sage, Azure sage, Giant blue sage, Blue sage, Priarie Sage – Salvia azurea Zone 4 – 9
Purple sage, Gray ball sage, Dorri sage, Desert sage – Salvia dorrii Zone 5 – 9
Scarlet Sage, Tropical Sage, Blood sage – Salvia coccinea Zone 7b – 10b
Scarlet Sage, Red Sage – Salvia splendens unknown zones
Shrubby blue sage, Blue Shrub Sage, Mejorana – Salvia ballotiflora unknown zone
San Luis purple sage Purple – Salvia leucophylla Zone 6a – 10b
Scallopleaf sage – Salvia vaseyi High desert elevations
Mint Family (Lamiaceae) Sages that are not Salvias:
Bladder Sage, Paperbag bush, Heartleaf Skullcap – Scutellaria Mexicana Texas and La. native
Bladder Sage, Mexican bladdersage – Salazaria Mexicana Zone 8 – 20
Island pitchersage – Lepechinia fragrans California endangered plant
*Russian Sage – Perovskia atriplicifolia Zone 4a – 9b
Aster Family (Asteraceae) Sages that are not Salvias
Big sagebrush, Great Basin sagebrush – Artemisia tridentate Zone 4 – 9
Black sagebrush – Artemisia nova A. Nelson Zone 4 – ?
Beach sagebrush, Beach wormwood, Sand hill sage – Artemisia pycnocephala Zone 9 – 10
Bud sagebrush, Budsage – Artemisia spinescens Semi-desert
California sagebrush, Coastal sagebrush – Artemisia californica Zone 7 – 10 coastal
Louisiana Artemisia, Louisiana sage, White sage, Prairie sage, Silver sage, White sagebrush, Louisiana wormwood, Silver wormwood, Louisiana sagewort, Gray sagewort, Cudweed sagewort, Mugwort wormwood – Artemisia ludoviciana Zone 5 – 10
Prairie sagewort, Prairie Sagebrush, Frienged sage, Pasture sage – Artemisia fridiga from Mexico to Siberia
Silver sagebrush, Coaltown sagebrush, Dwarf sagebrush, Hoary sagebrush, Silvery sagebrush – Artemisia cana Pursh Southwest US
Sages in Other Families that are not Salvias
Periennial buckwheat, Wright buckwheat, Wild buckwheat, Bastard sage – Eriogonum wrightii Zone 5 – 10
Buttonsage, Button-sage – Lantana involucrate Zone 8a – 11
Jerusalem Sage – Phlomis fruticosa Zone 7 – 11
Royal penstemon, Royal beardtongue, Sagebrush penstemon, Sagebrushtongue – Penstemon speciosus Zone 5 – 10
Sagebrush buttercup – Ranunculus glaberrimus Hook. Western US
Texas sage, Cenizo, Purple sage, Texas ranger, Texas barometer bush, Texas silverleaf, Silverleaf – Leucophyllum frutescens Zone 8 – 11