Salvia coccinea

blood sage


Salvia coccinea

(Buc'hoz ex Etl. 1777

pronounced: SAL-vee-uh kok-KIN-ee-uh

(Lamiaceae — the lavender family)


common names: blood sage, scarlet sage

Salvia was the Roman name for the herb sage, probably from salveo, to be well, in good health; coccinea is from the Greek κοκκος (kokkos), the berry of the scarlet oak.

The native range of this species is obscure, but it is thought to be native to south-eastern USA, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and tropical South America. At least it was already naturalized in the New World by the time of the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The plant was introduced into Australia as an ornamental, and is now naturalized in eastern Queensland, the coastal districts of NSW, and on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. It is found as a weed of open woodlands, riparian vegetation, disturbed sites, roadsides and in plantation crops. Several cultivars are still common in cultivation in Australia, especially ‘Lady in Red’, with deep red flowers, ‘Coral Nymph’, with salmon pink and white flowers, and ‘Snow Nymph’, a.k.a. ‘Alba’, with white flowers.

This is a perennial erect herbaceous plant usually growing up to 1 m tall, but occasionally to 1.5 m. Its stems, square in cross-section, are pubescent. Its paired leaves (up to 6 cm by 5 cm) are triangular to cordate in shape, with toothed margins, glabrous to puberulent upper surfaces and densely hairy undersides. The leaves vary considerably in size.

The flowers, blooming for most of the year, are borne in terminal racemes. They are in groups of 3 - 10 above small leafy bracts up to 1 cm long. Each flower is borne on a pedicel up to 8 mm long, and has 5 dull purple or green sepals 7 - 10 mm long. These are hairy, and fused together into a finely ribbed calyx tube with an obtuse upper lip and a 2-toothed lower lip. The petals are pubescent and fused together into a corolla tube. They are usually bright or dark red, and separate into an upper and lower lip. The upper lip is short and narrow, while the lower lip is longer and much broader. Each flower has 2 stamens about 4 mm long, and an ovary topped with a style and unequally 2-lobed stigma. The flowers produce a great deal of nectar, and so are popular with humming-birds, butterflies and bees.

The fruit, a schizocarp, splits into 4 one-seeded segments when mature. Each is about 3 mm long, narrowly ovoid, and smooth in texture. Goldfinches and other birds may visit the plant to pick out the seeds.

The species reproduces mainly by seed; seeds can be dispersed by wind or water, or in dumped garden waste. The plant has become an environmental weed in parts of Queensland and NSW.


Photographed in Picnic Bay 2009
Page last updated 29th March 2019