Salvia yangii (Russian Sage)
Salvia yangii, commonly called Russian Sage, was previously known as Perovskia atriplicifolia until 2017. It Is an aromatic, deciduous semi-woody shrub with an upright to spreading habit. The wiry silver stems carry finely dissected grey-green leaves that give the plant a hazy effect. Tall panicles of little whorled violet-blue flowers rise above the foliage from Summer to Autumn.
It is a drought-tolerant and hardy plant native to Southwest and Central Asia, specifically Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, West Himalayas, and Xinjiang.
HEIGHT & WIDTH
- Botanical name: Salvia yangii (SAL-vee-uh YANG-ee-eye)
- Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
- Common name: Russian Sage
- Synonyms: Perovskia atriplicifolia
|Derives from the Latin word Salva meaning to save or heal. Referring to the healing properties of salvias.
Similar to what happened to Rosemary, the Russian sage was also recently reclassified as a Salvia. This reclassification is effective since 2017. The previous name was Perovskia atriplicifolia which is now considered a synonym.
The previous genus name Perovskia was given by the Russian botanist Karelin to honour a Russian general called V.A. Perovski. This is why it is called the Russian sage, even though it is not native to Russia.
The species name, atriplicifolia, means leaves like saltbush.
How to identify Salvia yangii
A medium-sized deciduous shrub with loose upright to spreading habit with multiple wiry branches rising from the base. It is semi-woody, i.e. woody at the base and herbaceous at the top.
It has silver stems with grey-green foliage topped with panicles of violet-blue flowers.
The shrub has an average height of 1 to 1.2 m / 3.2 to 4 ft and a width of 60 cm to 1m / 2 to 3.2 ft.
At first glance, this shrub looks like English Lavender, but a closer observation will reveal that they are quite different.
The stems are stiff and upright to decumbent (spreading with slightly curving ends), very branched, herbaceous at the top and woody at the base.
They are densely covered with hairs and oil droplets, which give them a silvery colour.
The squared stems have opposite leaves at each node, with tufts of smaller leaves at the axils, and are topped with panicles of violet-blue flowers.
The leaf is greyish-green, hairy and strongly aromatic.
It is simple, with an elliptical to lanceolate shape and a deeply incised margin that may be wavy or sharp.
The leaves are attached to the stems by a short stalk and become almost sessile on the upper part of the stem.
The size is, on average, 3 – 5 cm / 1.2 – 2.0 in long and 0.8 – 2 cm / 0.3 – 0.8 in wide.
The inflorescence is a long panicle with an average height of 30 to 38 cm / 12 to 15 in. It has many branches, which are racemes with whorls of violet-blue flowers.
The corolla is tubular shaped and two-lipped, the upper lip has 4 lobes, and the lower lip has 1 lobe, which is slightly shorter. The stamens appear at the tip of the flower tube, and the pistil extends way beyond.
Each flower is held inside a bell-shaped, 2 lipped purple calyx that is densely covered in white or purple hairs. These remain attached to the stems long after the flowers are gone, which gives the illusion of a longer blooming time.
The flowers bloom during Summer and Autumn.
Quick tips to identify Russian Sage
Salvia yangii Usage
The Russian sage is a showy plant with a year-round interest. In the Winter, the wiry silver stems are a wonderful sight. In the spring, it has grey-green foliage that contrasts with other green tones you may have in the garden. During Summer and Autumn, its tall panicles of violet-blue flowers give an airy look 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.
Due to its intense aroma when brushed against, it is also a good choice for aromatic gardens.
It attracts insects and hummingbirds making it ideal for wildlife gardens.
Russian sage has been used in traditional medicine in its native Asian countries. It has been used to treat several medical conditions, such as fever, dysentery, upset stomachs, scabies and diabetes.
Russian sage flowers are considered edible. They have a sweet peppery flavour and are used in salads or as a garnish and even to flavour vodka.
But be careful with the leaves, as they are toxic and should not be eaten. They may also cause skin irritation or allergic reaction in some people.
The flowers of this sage attract many bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. This plant is a valuable addition to the biodiversity of your garden and is ideal for wildlife gardens.
Russian sage is a very robust plant that germinates easily, adapts to drought, freezing temperatures, and poor soils, and requires very little maintenance. Additionally, it has the potential to accumulate and tolerate high amounts of heavy metals from contaminated soils.
For all these reasons, the Russian sage is being considered a good option to use in phytoremediation to clean contaminated soils and improve the environment (source).
Salvia yangii Habitat
Russian sage is found in the steppes and hillsides and also in the mountains at higher altitudes up to 3000m / 10.000 ft in Southwest and Central Asia.
How to care for Salvia yangii
This plant is frost-hardy and tolerates temperatures down to -15ºC (5ºF) as long as the soil is well drained. Cold and humid soil can be fatal to it.
Add a thick layer of mulch to shelter the roots from low temperatures and the foliage from the wet soil. Mulch should preferably be gravel to protect the leaves from rotting due to the humidity. You can also use bark or wood chips but keep away from the crown to avoid rotting.
Needs full sun (at least 6 hours per day) to maintain a compact shape and to flower more abundantly.
It can tolerate some shade but becomes more floppy as the stems lose their firmness when deprived of sunlight.
It prefers well-drained stony or sandy soils. It dislikes soggy soil, which makes it more exposed to fungal diseases. So avoid planting it in places where moisture is stagnant.
It grows well in most types of soils: mildly acidic, neutral and mildly alkaline.
Russian sage is drought tolerant and can go for an extended period without water once it is established (about 4 months of drought if the temperature is not too hot).
Once established, it should not be watered in the summer because hot damp conditions may lead to fungal infections. However, in prolonged drought or extremely hot weather, you will need to water it, but make sure the soil completely dries out between watering.
During the first year after planting, you will need to water the young plant every two to three weeks during the summer. When the plant is young, the roots are still not established and will need this extra water until they grow more deeply and can get water on their own at the deeper levels of the soil.
When watering it, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate thoroughly into the soil to allow its long taproot to grow deeply. Deep roots will allow the plant to survive longer periods of drought because the lower layers of the soil keep moist for more time.
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 is essential to maintain the plant´s compactness and flowering.
It should be done several times a year. Give it a hard prune in early spring to maintain a compact form and give it some vigour. Then cut back the faded flowers regularly to encourage new blooms.
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.
Russian sage is salt tolerant, so it will succeed in coastal gardens.
Is Russian Sage invasive?
There is a concern that Russian Sage can become invasive under its ideal growing conditions, and planting it near wild lands has been discouraged. However, Russian Sage has not yet been considered invasive.
Like many other plants, when grown in ideal conditions, it can self-sow or gradually spread through rhizomatous roots. But this can be easily managed by pulling out these seedlings.
Russian sage is a very tough plant that can survive harsh conditions with poor soil, drought and freezing temperatures, but this does not mean that it is invasive or even that it will grow well everywhere. In fact, many people struggle to grow this robust plant and give up on it.
How to propagate Salvia yangii
Russian sage can be propagated from seed, from stem cuttings or by division of the underground rhizomes.
Once the plant is established, and if it is in the ideal conditions, it will self-seed and spread underground.
A good online source for plant propagation techniques can be found in 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
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Sources of information used for this article
Article from North Carolina Extension
Article from Kew
Article from The Gardenist