Salvia splendens: Scarlet sage

Family: Lamiaceae
Common name: Scarlet sage, Scarlet salvia, Red salvia

No garden can be called complete without these beautiful Scarlet sage plants, and their spikes of blood-red, tubular flowers. Native plants are said to grow more than 5 meters in height, but normal garden plants only grow 1-1.2 meters.

Scarlet sage plants grow well as border plants, bedding plants, on ledges, or in flowerpots. They look brilliant when combined with other plants that have light-colored flowers. These plants belong to the mint family of Lamiaceae that has many popular garden herbs like mint, rosemary, basil, and common sage.

In fact, the name Salvia comes from the Latin word, Salveo which means to save or heal referring to the medicinal properties of many herbs in this family.

Scarlet sage plants are native to Brazil, but they are now very commonly seen in gardens, parks, and landscaped areas all over the world. Leaves are bright green, almost heart-shaped with a toothed margin and sunken veins.

These plants flower during summer and spring, but they are capable of flowering almost throughout the year in warm climates. They are well-branched with thick, green stems, that are square in cross-section and red spikes arising from the tips holding bunches of flowers.

These flowers are held well above the level of the foliage, in bunches of 10-25 red tubular flowers. Scarlet sage flowers are 2-3 cms long and hairy towards the base.

Sepals are red in color, about 1 cm long, and 2 lipped holding the actual flowers inside them. The actual flowers are 3-4 cms long, mostly red, but there are variants with white, pink, salmon, burgundy, purple, lavender, orange, blue, and variegated flowers. Once the flowers fall away, the calyx or sepal cup holds tiny brown or black seeds which can be extracted once they are completely dry.

Common cultivars are Alba which has white flowers, Grandiflora with large red flowers, Bicolor with white and red flowers, Compacta with small red or white flowers, Atropurpurea having purple or violet flowers, St. John’s Fire which are small dwarf plants with abundant red flowers, and many more garden favorites. Some of these cultivars have won Horticultural awards.

Scarlet sage plants prefer bright sunlight and well-drained soil, with regular watering and fertilization. Butterflies and bees love these bright flowers, and hence they make good candidates for butterfly parks.

Deadheading is very essential to promote blooming. Leaves have an unpleasant fragrance that keeps bigger animals like cows and goats away.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.