Salvia greggi (Autumn Sage)

Salvia greggi, commonly called Autumn Sage or Cherry Sage, is a small semi-evergreen subshrub with a rounded shape. It has soft, aromatic, green leaves and flowers borne on terminal racemes that are usually red but can also be pink, purple, orange or white.

It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to some parts of Texas and Mexico.



Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Salvia greggi height and width

BLOOM TIME

Salvia greggi bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

Origin Texas and Mexico

Autumn Sage scientific name

  • Botanical name: Salvia greggi  (SAL-vee-ah GREG-ee-eye
  • Family:  Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage, Gregg Salvia, Mexican Sage
NameMeaning
SalviaDerives from the Latin word Salva meaning to save or heal. Referring to the healing properties of salvias.
greggiNamed after an American merchant and explorer, Josiah Greggi, who found and collected the plant in the mid-1800s.

How to identify Salvia greggi

Salvia greggi shrub (Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage, Mexican Sage)

Shrub

Small, aromatic semi-evergreen subshrub. It’s usually evergreen but can be deciduous in very cold winters.

It is a widely variable plant. The shape is round with upright to ascending growth habit. Its leaves also vary in size and shape. Its flower size and colour are highly variable.

The shrub varies widely in height, but on average, it has 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft) and a width of 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft).

It is very similar to Salvia microphylla, but Salvia greggi does not have the pair of papillae inside the corolla near its base. Both species hybridise easily, and the hybrid name is Salvia x jamensis.

Salvia greggi stem (Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage, Mexican Sage)

Stem

The stems are more or less straight, i.e., they can vary from upright to decumbent (spreading with slightly curving ends). They are grey-green and hairy.

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 the flowers are borne on terminal racemes.

Salvia greggi leaf (Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage, Mexican Sage)

Leaf

The leaf is aromatic (spicy fragrance), mid-green to deep green, leathery with little to no hairs, and has a stalk. 

The shape of the leaf is ovate or elliptic, with an obtuse tip, smooth margin and non-evident veins.

The size is, on average 1.5 cm (0.6 in)  long and 0.5cm (0.2 in) wide.

Salvia greggi flower Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage, Mexican Sage)

Flower

The inflorescence is a raceme which varies in height from 7 to 15 cm (3 to 6 in), with several pairs of flowers along the terminal part of the stem.

Flower colour can vary a lot according to its origin and breeding. Red is the most common colour, but other colours also exist, like pink, purple, orange and white, and many shades in between.

The corolla is tubular shaped and two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes laterally compressed, forming a hood, and the lower lip has 3 lobes, with the middle lobe much larger and split at the end. 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 green or maroon-coloured calyx that is bell-shaped and 2-lipped.

Defying its common name, Autumn sage not only flowers in autumn but also in the spring and summer. The best blooms happen in the spring and fall, with some scattered blooms in the summer.

Quick tips to identify Autumn Sage

How to identify Autumn Sage (Salvia greggi ) - Drought tolerant sage

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    Salvia greggi Usage

    Ornamental

    Autumn sage is valued for its long flowering period, which can go from early spring to late autumn and for its almost evergreen dense foliage.

    It comes in a wide range of colours and is commonly seen in borders and beds, but it can also be used as a solitary plant or planted in pots. It looks lovely in rock or gravel gardens.

    Due to its drought tolerance, it is a very appropriate plant for low-maintenance and dry gardens.

    Medicinal

    Salvia greggi, is a medicinal plant used by the people of the eastern cape province of South Africa, where it is locally known as ‘Isikhiki’. The leaves are chewed raw or boiled to treat throat infections. (source).

    Biodiversity

    The flowers of this shrub are attractive to multiple beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies, and also to hummingbirds. All this wildlife will enhance the biodiversity of your garden.

    Salvia greggi Habitat

    This shrub grows naturally in some parts of Texas and Mexico at altitudes of 1500 to 2800m (5000 to 9000 ft).

    It is seen in dry, rocky areas. Scrublands, thickets and forest clearings.

    How to care for Salvia greggi

    Cold exposure

    This shrub is moderately hardy, tolerating some frost and temperatures down to -10ºc (14ºF) as long as the soil is well drained. If the winter is very harsh, it will lose its leaves and re-emerge in spring when the weather warms up.

    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

    Needs full sun (at least 6 hours per day) to maintain its best colour and compact shape. It can tolerate some shade but becomes more floppy as the stems lose their firmness when deprived of sunlight.

    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, the Autumn 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. 

    How to prune Salvia greggi

    Pruning is essential to maintain the plant´s compact decorative shape and flowering.

    Ideally, you should give it a hard prune in early spring, which is essential to maintain its compactness and avoid becoming too woody or splitting apart. Prune it to about one-third but be careful to always prune above the leaf, as the stems will not regrow if it is cut back too hard.

    Then light pruning throughout the long flowering season to stimulate continued flowering.

    How to propagate Salvia greggi

    Salvia greggi can be propagated by seed or by cuttings. But seeds can lead to wide variation, so it is best to propagate by cuttings (softwood or semi-hardwood tip cuttings)

    After some years, the plant will inevitably become leggy and need to be replaced. So be sure to start new plants from cuttings every four to five years.

    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

    Sources

    Sources of information used for this article

    Internet

    Article from Wildflower.org

    Article from Missouri Botanical Garden

    Article from Le Jardin Sec

    Books

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

    The New Book of Salvias by Clebsch, Betsy/ Barner, Carol D.

    The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate
    by Olivier Filippi

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