Salvia lavandulifolia (Spanish Sage)

Salvia lavandulifolia, commonly called Spanish Sage, is a small, aromatic, evergreen subshrub with narrow grey-green leaves forming a compact broad cushion. Well above the foliage are many spikes of tiny pale violet-blue flowers arranged in whorls around the stem.

It is a drought-tolerant and hardy plant native to the Mediterranean basin, especially to Spain, which is why it is called Spanish sage.

Salvia lavandulifolia stem (spanish sage, lavender- leaved sage)


Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Salvia lavandulifolia height and width

BLOOM TIME

Salvia lavandulifolia bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-12ºC / 10º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Taxonomy

  • Botanical name: Salvia lavandulifolia  (SAL-vee-ah  lav-an-du-lee-fol-ee-a) 
  • Family:  Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Spanish sage, Lavender-leaved sage
  • Synonyms: s. officinalis subsp. Lavandulifolia, s. rosmarinifolia
NameMeaning
SalviaDerives from the Latin word Salva meaning to save or heal. Referring to the healing properties of salvias.
lavandulifoliaFrom Latin and meaning to have leaves like Lavandula (lavender). Referring to its narrow grey-green leaves.

How to identify Salvia lavandulifolia

Salvia lavandulifolia shrub (spanish sage, lavender-leaved sage)

Plant

A small evergreen, very branched subshrub with a rounded form and an upright to ascending growth habit.

It has narrow grey-green leaves, topped with many short spikes of pale violet flowers.

The plant is very aromatic, releasing an aroma very similar to rosemary

It has an average height of 20 cm / 0.6 ft, which rises up to 40-50 cm / 1.3-1,6 ft when in flower.

The average width is 50 cm / 1.6 ft.

This species has high morphological variability and has been subdivided into several subspecies, as we can see later in this article.

Salvia lavandulifolia stem (spanish sage, lavender- leaved sage)

Stem

The stem is woody at the base and has numerous hairy upright herbaceous branches.

It has opposite leaves at the nodes, which grow in bunches.

The flower stems form spikes with largely spaced whorls of tiny pale violet flowers.

Salvia lavandulifolia leaf (spanish sage, lavender-leaved sage)

Leaf

The leaf is simple, narrow, and densely covered with short hairs. It is grey-green and pebbly on the upper surface and has whitish pronounced veins on the lower surface. The younger leaves are whitish-grey.

The shape is elliptical to lanceolate with a crenulate margin (tiny rounded projections the size of the pebbles on the upper surface). The tip can be acute or obtuse.

It has a long petiole (0.5-5.4 cm / 0.2-2.1 in)  but is usually shorter than the blade.

The size of the leaf blade is 1.5-7.2 cm / 0.6-2.8 in long and 0.4-3.2 cm / 0.2-1.3 in wide.

Salvia lavandulifolia flower (spanish sage, lavender-leaved sage)

Flower

The inflorescence is a spike 5 to 71 cm / 1.8  to 28 in tall with several widely spaced whorls composed of 2 to 8 tiny flowers with the colour varying between pink, purple or blue-violet.

At the base of each flower whorl, we can observe green or mauve bracts that usually remain on the stem after the flowers fall off.

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 purple-tinged calyx that is bell-shaped and 2-lipped with five triangular teeth, three on the upper lip and 2 on the lower one.

The flowers can bloom during spring and summer.

Quick tips to identify Spanish Sage

How to identify Salvia lavandulifolia (Spanish sage) - Drought tolerant sage

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    Salvia lavandulifolia Subspecies

    Salvia lavandulifolia is a highly variable species which has been subdivided into five subspecies:

    • subsp. lavandulifolia. Usually unbranched inflorescence, evergreen or deciduous bracts, with hairy calyx. Corolla size 15-25 mm / 0.6-1 in. Distribution is limited to central and east Spain.
    • subsp. oxydon. Inflorescence can be simple or branched, evergreen bracts, and hairless calyx. Corolla size 24-30 mm / 0.9-1.1 in. Distribution is limited to the southeast of Spain.
    • subsp. blancoana. Open and branched inflorescence, deciduous bracts, very hairy calyx. Corolla size 25-40 mm / 1-1.6 in. Distribution is limited to the Baetic mountains in the south of Spain.
    • subsp. mariolensis. Inflorescence can be simple or branched, deciduous bracts, and a hairy calyx. Corolla size 21-28 mm / 0.8-1.1 in. Distribution is limited to some mountains of eastern Spain.
    • subsp. vellerea. Inflorescence can be simple or branched, evergreen bracts, and a very hairy calyx. Corolla size 25-30 mm / 1-1.1 in. Distribution is limited to some mountains in the east and south of Spain.

    Salvia lavandulifolia Usage

    Ornamental

    The Spanish Sage can be an interesting addition to your garden. Its dense grey-green, almost silver leaves create a lovely contrast with other darker green foliage you may have. When in bloom, it has many pale violet-blue flowers that bring a soft colour to the garden.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in mass. It can be planted in pots or borders. In rock or gravel gardens. Its reclining habit makes it a great ground cover.

    Due to its intense fragrance, it is also a good choice for aromatic gardens.

    Medicinal

    Spanish sage has been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times. It was used in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, memory improvement, blood circulation, digestive disorders, respiratory problems, menstrual issues and kidney diseases. However, it was not used by pregnant women.

    Research demonstrates that Spanish Sage essential oil can improve memory and may have potential value for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

    Culinary

    Spanish sage can be used in the same way as common sage. It has many culinary uses and is strongly associated with Mediterranean cuisine.

    It can be used to flavour pork, lamb, chicken, fish, pasta, tortillas and soups. It also serves to flavour dairy products, vinegar, and drinks.

    The flowers are used to decorate dishes, salads and for infusions.

    It is believed that the consumption of this sage can enhance memory function.

    Cosmetics

    Due to its pleasant aroma, which is very similar to rosemary, Spanish sage is widely cultivated for the production of perfumes and soaps.

    Biodiversity

    The flowers of this sage are rich in nectar being very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. They greatly enhance the biodiversity of your garden.

    Salvia lavandulifolia Habitat

    Spanish sage can be found in shrublands, rocky slopes, and woodland margins. In the mountains of Center and East Spain at altitudes from 250 to 2100m / 820 to 6900 ft.

    How to care for Salvia lavandulifolia

    Cold exposure

    This plant is very hardy. It tolerates frost and temperatures down to -12ºC (10ºF), as long as the soil is well drained. It does not support cold and humid soil.

    Add some mulch to protect the crown from excess moisture. Mulch should be gravel to protect the leaves from rotting due to the humidity in other types of mulch.

    Sun exposure

    It needs full sun (at least 6 hours per day) to maintain prettier foliage and to flower more abundantly.

    Soil

    It prefers well-drained stony, or sandy soils. It especially dislikes wet soil, which makes it more exposed to fungal diseases. So avoid planting it in places where moisture is stagnant.

    You should not fertilize the soil, if it is too fertile, this sage has more difficulty tolerating drought and cold temperatures and tends to become leggy and have fewer flowers.

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

    Watering

    Spanish sage is drought tolerant and can go for a long period without water (about 5 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.

    To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the plant. Gravel is the best option for mulching. 

    Pruning

    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 to maintain a compact form and a light prune in the summer after flowering to encourage a new bloom after some weeks.

    How to propagate Salvia lavandulifolia

    Spanish sage can be easily propagated from seed, or cuttings taken before or after flowering.

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

    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 University of Almeria

    Article from University of the Basque country

    Vol XII from FloraIberica

    Books

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

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

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