Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Plant Profile: Ethereal White Sage Blooms Add Grace to Southern California

California White Sage (Salvia apiana)

This beautiful shrub is native to Southern California and Baja. It is usually found growing wild in the coastal sage scrub habitat on the western edges of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The books say it will grows five feet tall (at least) and 5 feet across, but I have seen larger specimens.

The plant in the photo growing in my garden since I am lucky enough to live near the famed Theodore Payne Foundation and Native Plant Nursery. White Sage is also called Bee Sage because bees love it.

When the flowers are at their peak my whole plant is usually buzzing with happy bees. The bees are so focused on their work they don't mind the dog running around or me intruding with the camera. The small flowers on all sage plants also make them a favorite of tiny beneficial insects. The leaves are up to 4 inches long, thick and velvety and are slightly sticky. The whole plant is very aromatic so you should find a spot in your garden where you can enjoy its fragrance.

The silvery plant seems to glow in the moonlight. The flowers are white, sometimes tinted purple and are produced in whorls on long branches up to three feet long.

White sage is considered sacred by Native Americans, like the Chumash, in the southwestern United States. The Peterson Field Guide To Western Medicinal Plants And Herbs describes it thus: "Considered an expectorant; used for colds, coughs, sore throats and systemic poison oak rashes. An important ceremonial plant among southwestern Indian groups. The herb was burned as a fumigant after an illness in the dwelling".

These shrubs make a nice addition to the back of the border. Their light grey leaf color really glows in the moonlight.

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