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    Salvia fruticosa (Greek Sage)

    Salvia fruticosa commonly called Greek Sage or Three-lobed Sage, is an upright, bushy, evergreen shrub with a broad cushion form and a frosty appearance due to its abundant hairs. It has trilobed or simple grey-green leaves and dense racemes of violet-pink flowers rising above the foliage.

    It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically to the South and Eastern Mediterranean region.

    It was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula by the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, where nowadays it is naturalized.


    Quick Overview

    TYPE

    Type Shrub

    HEIGHT & WIDTH

    Salvia fruticosa height and width

    BLOOM TIME

    Salvia fruticosa bloom time

    SUNLIGHT

    full sun

    HARDINESS

    hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

    DROUGHT TOLERANCE

    drought tolerance aprox 4 months

    ORIGIN

    origin mediterranean basin

    Taxonomy

    • Botanical name: Salvia fruticosa  (SAL-vee-ah froo-tih-KOH-sah)
    • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
    • Common name:  Greek sage, Three-lobed sage
    • Synonyms: Salvia triloba, Salvia libanotica

    Due to the wide variation in the leaf shape, over the years, these variations were considered as different species, such as Salvia triloba, S. libanotica S. lobryana, and S. cypria. However, all these species are now named Salvia fruticosa.

    NameMeaning
    SalviaDerives from the Latin word Salva meaning to save or heal. Referring to the healing properties of salvias.
    fruticosaDerives from the Latin word fruticosus meaning shrubby or bushy.

    How to identify Salvia fruticosa

    Salvia fruticosa shrub (Greek sage, Three-lobed sage)

    Shrub

    Bushy, aromatic, evergreen shrub, forming a broad cushion shape with a frost-like appearance due to its woolly leaves and stems.

    It is very branched from the base with white hairy stems bearing numerous hairy, grey-green leaves of various sizes and usually trilobed. 

    Long stalks with terminal or axillary racemes of violet-pink flowers rise above the foliage.

    The shrub has an average height of 80 cm (2.6 ft) and a width of 80 to 100 cm (2.6 to 3.2 ft).

    Salvia fruticosa stem (Greek sage, Three-lobed sage)

    Stem

    The stems are very branched from the base and covered with short, dense white hairs

    They are squared, with opposite leaves at each node, each pair at right angles to the next. 

    The flower stems are longer than the foliage stems and have terminal or axillary racemes of flowers.

    Salvia fruticosa leaf (Greek sage, Three-lobed sage)

    Leaf

    The leaf is densely-haired, grey-green on top and whitish underneath, with a wavy margin and a very hairy stalk.

    The shape of the leaf is ovate to ovate-lanceolate, usually with 3 lobes (sometimes 5) at the base, hence the name “three-lobed sage” and the synonym Salvia triloba. However, it can also be entire. 

    The Greek sage plants can be very different, having either entire or three-lobed leaves, which leads to some confusion about their identification in the wild.

    The size varies between 15 and 60 mm ( 0.6 and 2.3 in) long and 4 to 20 mm  (0.1 and 0.7 in) wide.

    Salvia fruticosa flower (Greek sage, Three-lobed sage)

    Flower

    The inflorescence is a raceme which varies in height from 10 to 40 cm (3.9 to 15.7 in), with several whorls composed of 3 to 8 violet-pink flowers.

    The flowers are purple-pink or pale pink and sometimes white. The corolla is two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes laterally compressed, forming a hood, and the lower lip has 3 lobes with the middle lobe larger. The stamens are inserted under the hood of the corolla with the anthers sticking out. The pistil, which is taller, projects out from the top.

    Each flower is held inside a maroon-coloured calyx that is bell-shaped and slightly 2-lipped with five triangular teeth

    The flowers bloom in spring.

    Quick tips to identify Greek sage

    How to identify Greek Sage (Salvia fruticosa ) - Drought tolerant sage

    Salvia fruticosa Usage

    Ornamental

    The Greek Sage is a very attractive shrub with its dense woolly foliage and long inflorescences rising above the foliage.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in a group. Can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

    It can also be used for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

    Medicinal

    Salvia fruticosa has been used in traditional medicine since ancient times. It was used for numerous health issues such as headaches, rheumatic pains, stomach pains, indigestion, kidney and gall-bladder stones, colds, and coughs, as a cicatrizant and antiseptic to cure external wounds and swellings, as a sedative and much more. No wonder it was named Salvia, referring to its medicinal properties.

    Studies have demonstrated some of these medicinal properties, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.

    Culinary

    The Greek Sage leaves can be used fresh or dried to flavour meat, fish, legume and vegetable dishes. The leaves are baked in butter and served as a sauce. It can be used as a salad dressing.

    An infusion of leaves is used to make a fragrant tea called “Faskomilo”.

    In its native habitat, the Greek Sage develops fruit-shaped galls. These are tumours, swelling out from branches which are caused by insect punctures. These galls are said to be fragrant, juicy and tasty and have a crunchy texture, so people like to eat them.

    Biodiversity

    The flowers of this shrub are a good source of nectar and are very attractive to bees and other beneficial insects, which then attract other wildlife, such as birds, enhancing the biodiversity of your garden.

    Cultural

    In Cartagena, Spain, there is a tradition where the father of the bride offers these plants to the newlywed couple to ornament their new home.

    Other uses

    In Greece, this plant is sometimes burned inside the house to cleanse it.

    Salvia fruticosa Habitat

    This shrub grows in the typical Mediterranean landscape at altitudes up to 600 m (2000 ft).

    It is seen in dry scrubland, rocky slopes, olive groves and open coniferous woodland.

    It also grows in coastal areas because of its tolerance to maritime exposure.

    How to care for Salvia fruticosa

    Cold exposure

    This shrub is moderately hardy, tolerating temperatures down to -10ºc (14ºF) as long as the soil is well drained.

    However, until it is fully established, it will need winter protection.  Add some mulch to protect the roots from low temperatures and the foliage from the wet soil.

    Sun exposure

    Greek sage needs full sun (at least 6 hours per day) to maintain a better colour and compact shape. In the shade, it will become more floppy as the stems stretch to the light and also, you won´t get as many flowers.

    Soil

    It likes hot, well-drained to dry, stony or sandy soils. It especially dislikes wet soil, which makes it more exposed to fungal diseases.

    If prefers poor soils, if they’re fertile, the shrub tends to become leggy and has more difficulty tolerating drought and cold temperatures.

    It grows well in most types of soils: mildly acidic, neutral and mildly alkaline.

    Watering

    Once established, this Sage is drought tolerant and can go for some time without water (about 4 months if the temperature is not too hot). 

    Overwatering will probably kill it. In particular, the combination of heat and humidity can lead to fungal disease.

    During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young plant every two to three weeks during the summer.  Allow the soil to dry out between watering. In case of a heat wave, water more frequently. Monitor your plants closely and look out for any signs of stress.

    To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the plant (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching. 

    Other conditions

    Salvia fruticosa can tolerate maritime exposure, so it is adapted to coastal conditions.

    The best season to plant is during Autumn, so it will have all winter to develop its roots. In very cold areas, it is best to plant during the spring as long as there is available water throughout the summer to survive while developing its roots.

    How to prune Salvia fruticosa

    Pruning is essential to maintain the plant´s compact decorative shape and flowering. It should be done twice a year.

    • A hard prune in early spring, is necessary to maintain its shape and compactness. Be careful to always prune above the new shoots that are appearing at the base.
    • A light prune after flowering (usually in summer) to encourage bushiness and possibly another flush of flowering within a few weeks. This prune should be done just below the inflorescence to the next pair of new buds.

    How to propagate Salvia fruticosa

    Sage can be propagated in different ways:

    • Propagate by seed sown in late winter and early spring.
    • Propagate by softwood cuttings taken in early spring, by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in later spring and summer, or by hardwood cuttings taken in autumn
    • Propagate by layering in spring or autumn

    A good online source for plant propagation techniques can be found at RHS.

    If you prefer books, I can recommend the following:

    • Creative propagation: a grower’s guide by Thompson, Peter,
    • RHS Propagating Plants: How to Create New Plants For Free by Alan Toogood, Royal Horticultural Society

    Other Salvias you may also like

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    Sources

    Sources of information used for this article

    Internet

    Article from Le Jardin Sec

    Article from Academia.edu

    Article from KEW

    Models for images from Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Savvas Trifonos

    Vol XII from FloraIberica

    Books

    Creative propagation: a grower’s guide by Thompson, Peter

    Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood