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Stumped by Sages?

Stumped by Sages?

By Laura Bauer, Bauer Fine Gardening Service

Laura is a landscape designer based in Ventura. She has been a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for three years and she has been a Board member of the Southern California Horticultural Society for over ten years. She has helped with several designs and installations for Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee. Her website is or you can reach her by phone (626-437-9459) or email She is also a big plant nerd and loves to encourage people to grow our native California plants in their own gardens.


The Sage family (plants in the genus Salvia) is a large and diverse family that can confuse people that are new (and not so new) to gardening. Below is a quick list of some of the more common native California Sages you may encounter at nurseries.

There are four common shrubby native California Sages: White, Black, Purple and Sweet. There are also many hybrids and named varieties (cultivars) available. But all of them have very aromatic foliage and prefer to be grown in full sun with little water. They all bloom in the spring (great for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds) and need to take a rest with reduced irrigation in the summer.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) is probably the easiest to distinguish because it has large, smooth, pale gray leaves. It can quickly grow to 5’ tall and 8’ wide. Small white flowers are held on stout, straight stalks that can be 6’ tall.


Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) has dark green, crinkly leaves. Tiny white flowers are borne in dark-colored (almost black) clusters on upright stems. Black Sage grows to 6’ tall and 10’ wide.


Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla) has pale greenish-gray leaves. Despite its common name, flowers are more pink than purple. It grows 5’ tall and 10’ wide. ‘Pt Sal’ is shorter, growing only 2’-4’ tall. ‘Bon Bon’ is a hybrid with Sweet Sage that only grows to 2’-3’ tall and 3’-4’ wide.


Sweet Sage (Salvia clevelandii) has grayish-green leaves with a distinctive sweet scent and lavender flowers. It grows to 6’ tall and 8’ wide. ‘Winnifred Gilman’ is a slightly smaller variety with dark violet flowers and dark green leaves.


Bonus shrubby native sages: Santa Rosa Island Sage (Salvia brandegeei) is similar to Black Sage, but the flowers have a bluish tinge. It typically grows about 5’ tall and 7’ wide. San Diego Sage (Salvia munzii) looks like a smaller version of Black Sage, (growing only about 3’ tall and wide) with bluish-lavender flowers.


There are also a number of hybrid sages that are fast-growing groundcovers (good for erosion control on slopes). ‘Bee’s Bliss’ has grayish-green leaves and lavender flowers, and grows 2’ tall and 8’ wide.


Other sages from the American Southwest grow happily alongside these natives. Germander Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides) is a small sage (2’ tall and 4’ wide) with silver leaves and bright blue summer flowers. It looks great in front of larger natives. Lemmon’s Sage (Salvia lemmonii) is an open shrubby plant to 3’ tall and wide. It has small, bright green leaves and flashy, bright red flowers.

Salvia chamaedryoides- Mexican blue sage


Salvia lemmonii- lemmon sage


Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) is a California native that looks and behaves completely differently from the shrubby sages above. This plant has bright green, lush-looking leaves that grow from underground runners. Larger leaf clusters will grow thick stems of dark pink flowers in spring. It prefers a partially shady spot and some water in the summer. The whole plant smells like pineapple!


Sages….all wise choices!

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Featured Plant



Botanical Name

Berlandiera lyrata

Common Name

chocolate daisy


Flower Color


Mature Size

1-1/2 tall × 2 wide

Climactic Requirements


Full Sun / Filtered Sun


Occasional / Moderate
Profile Availability

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