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A very large and wide-ranging genus of annuals and perennials, the latter mostly herbaceous or sub-shrubby; only a few species in Central and South America are true shrubs. The salvias are poorly represented in Europe outside the Mediterranean region, and only two are genuinely native in the British Isles.
The flowers in Salvia are borne in whorls, which are arranged in the form of spikes, racemes or panicles; sometimes the whorls are reduced to as few as two flowers. Calyx and corolla two-lipped. Tube of corolla variously shaped, sometimes with a ring of hairs inside; upper lip erect, hooded, the large spreading lower lip three-lobed, the centre lobe the largest, often toothed. Fertile stamens two instead of the four usual in the Labiates, the other two being either absent or reduced to staminodes. A remarkable and distinctive feature of Salvia is the structure of the stamens. Each has two arms (connectives) at the apex, one bearing a fertile cell, the other sterile; in some sections of the genus the latter is expanded and spoon-shaped and united by a sticky secretion to the corresponding arm of the other stamen.
Apart from S. officinalis and its allies very few salvias are both woody and hardy enough to be included in this work. Apart from those treated more fully below there are the following in cultivation, all on the borderline in both respects:
S. coerulea Benth. S. guaranitica St Hil.; S. ambigens Briq. – A woody-based perennial to about 5 ft high, with ovate crenated leaves and deep blue flowers about 2 in. long, mostly four to six in each cluster, the inflorescence almost 1 ft long. Bot. Mag., t. 9178. Native mainly of Brazil.
S. fulgens Cav. Cardinal Sage. – A semi-woody much-branched perennial to about 4 ft. Leaves ovate, crenate, 1 to 3 in. long, hairy beneath. Flowers in summer and autumn, about 2 in. long, with a purplish red calyx and hairy bright crimson-scarlet corollas, arranged in rather distant clusters, about six flowers in each. Mexico.
S. involucrata Cav. – A fairly woody perennial to about 3 ft high, sparsely branched, with glabrous, acuminate, long-stalked cordate leaves about 4 in. long. Although grouped by Bentham with S. fulgens and S. microphylla it is very distinct from both in its inflorescence, each whorl (of three to six flowers) being surrounded by pink floral leaves which drop off as the flowers expand. Corolla inflated, shortly lipped, crimson, bright rosy crimson in ‘Bethelii’ (the finest form raised by a Mr Bethell shortly before 1880). It is late-flowering, from about August and was once used for the winter decoration of conservatories. Mexico.
S. rutilans Carr. – This small subshrub is mainly winter-flowering and only suitable for a cool greenhouse or conservatory outside the mildest parts, though it may give a good display elsewhere, in a warm corner, if the autumn is mild. Flowers with bright red slender-tubed corollas; whorls arranged in branched spikes. Leaves pineapple-scented when crushed. Known only as a cultivated plant but near to S. elegans Vahl, a native of Mexico.
All the above are easily propagated by soft cuttings in summer. All need a very warm corner and a light soil low in nitrogenous matter, which encourages lush growth at the expense of flower.