Monday, November 16, 2009

Sky Blue Salvia - Salvia azurea

For some mysterious reason, sky blue salvia (Salvia azurea) seems to be one of the "forgotten" salvias of Florida.  While gardeners across the state commonly add our native red and lyre-leaved salvias (S. coccinea and S. lyrata) to their landscapes, very few nurseries and far fewer homeowners seem interested in doing the same with the beautiful sky blue salvia.  Perhaps it comes partly from its somewhat ungainly growth habit, but this can be accomodated in many wildflower settings.
Sky blue salvia occurs across much of Florida (except the extreme southern counties) and across much of North America (except the extreme far west).  In Florida, it is a common component of open, well-drained habitats; especially sandhills and dry pinelands.  It is an adaptable species for most home landscape settings, but needs good drainage and sunlight to prosper. 
This member of the salvia genus (sometimes called "sages") and mint family is a deciduous perennial that dies back to the ground each winter to its woody base.  By early spring, it emerges and begins its rapid growth until fall.  Sky blue salvia does not form basal leaves like many of its relatives.  What it does produce is a square-stemmed stalk that may eventually reach 5 feet in length, though 3-4 feet is more common.  This stalk is not particularly beautiful to behold and this salvia would not win any awards for its addition of foliage to a wildflower planting.
What does make this species worth growing is its absolutely amazing azure-blue flowers.  I am not familiar with any of our wildflowers that match this shade of blue and they stand out, almost crystalline, in the habitats where they are blooming; their pure sky-blue flowers held several feet above the native grasses and other understory wildflowers.  Sky blue salvia blooms in the fall - anytime from September through November.  The flowers are attractive to a wide assortment of bees and other pollinators.
Because of its growth habit, sky blue salvia is not a good choice for a small garden setting nor does it look best if planted singly.  What it needs is a little support from some of our native taller bunch grasses such as the bluestems (Andropogon spp.) or Indiangrasses (Sorghastrum spp.) so that the stems do not flop over at blooming time and a more expansive planting where it can "disappear" into the neighboring foliage until it flowers in the fall.  Individual plants eventually produce multiple stalks so it is not necessary to plant several next to each other for effect.  But, I believe it works best if the planting area is large enough to accommodate several specimens instead of just one or two.
If you have room and the proper drainage and sunlight for this species, it is well worth the effort to grow it.  Let's just hope that the few nurseries that are keeping it in production here in Florida keep it going until demand catches up.

1 comment:

  1. The butterfly in the image are very hard to find now a days.. but when in my childhood i used to see them many ! :(


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