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Salvia pachyphylla

Salvia pachyphylla

If you'll recall my reaction to the fragrance of the Schima flowers, imagine the opposite reaction when smelling my fingers after squeezing the inflorescence of this plant, blue sage or rose sage. It is quite disgusting (I believe the word “foul” was used), and the smell lingers for some time; it is far better to appreciate this southwestern US and Mexico native for its appearance.

There seems to be some interesting evolutionary biology and taxonomy surrounding Salvia pachyphylla and the closely-related Salvia dorrii, but I haven't been able to track down a published peer-reviewed paper on the subject reflecting modern work. This abstract of a presentation at one of the Botanical Society of America's annual Botany Conferences piqued my interest: The Phylogeny and Adaptive Radiation of Salvia pachyphylla (Lamiaceae).

CalPhotos has a number of images of Salvia pachyphylla if you'd like to browse through more. You could also read the entry in the Jepson Manual about this plant for a description.

Photography resource link: for inspiration, the photography of Tomas Kaspar. You can also view a selection of his images on Flickr: Tomas Kaspar.


Madrono vol. 53 #1, pp. 11-24
Systematics of Salvia pachyphylla (Lamiaceae)
Robin M. Taylor and Tina J. Ayres

I live in the Southwest and have seen this lovely sage or one very close to it in Central California....Question: Is this salvia what is also called 'Hummingbird Sage' ? Lovely pic!


While not familiar with Salvia pachyphylla in particular, having spent much of my life in the sage scrub of Southern California I am quite familiar with the sweet perfume (OK, pungent odor) of Salvia. I wouldn't begin to describe it as "disgusting" or "foul", merely strong. The natives of the American southwest valued it for its fragrance, and many people use it in cooking (mainly for its fragrance).

Of course, my opinion may be biased as I associate the smell with countless thousands of joyful hours spent traipsing (or even, as a child, burrowing) through the scrub, returning home with the odour in my nose and well worked into my clothes, the fragrance lingering for days. I currently have a Salvia mellifera (Black sage) in my backyard, and sometimes I go stand in middle of it just to trigger memories of those days in the scrub.

I believe hummingbird sage most often refers to Salvia spathacea – certainly bears a strong resemblance, doesn't it? Note the difference in colour of the flowers themselves, though.

Eric, I didn't intend to paint all sages with the same brush. I love the fragrance of almost all of them – but this particular one...well, there's an element in there that just doesn't smell healthy. How shall I put it? Hmm... well, responsible urban dog owners would likely recognize the smell.

Salvia pachyphylla - Z8 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths

Thank you Daniel! It's been many years since I have seen Hummingbird Sage and now I remember it's pom pom like flowers...Very showey. My Native American Elders taught me of several sages that are used medicinaly and for Ceremonies. Red sage is a very potent medicine. White Sage we use during Ceremonies. There is also a rare type of sagebrush that grows in a small area off highway 395 near Bishop CA that is very special and has a breathtaking sweet fragrance. Would you happen to be familiar with that and know it's name?
Thank you!

Keya, is it possibly Salvia funerea (known from areas near Death Valley)?

Wayne Armstrong has written extensively about California sages on this page (with photographs).

You can also find more detailed information regarding this fabulous species in my thesis:under my maiden name, Robin Taylor
Northern Arizona University (NAU), Flagstaff, AZ
Published work: The Phylogeny and Adaptive Radiation of Salvia pachyphylla
(Lamiaceae) - May 2002

I personally love the fragrance, but perhaps after working with it for so many years it grew on me.

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