Salvia splendens

scarlet sage


Salvia splendens

Sellow ex Schult. 1822

pronounced: SAL-vee-un splen-DENZ

(Lamiaceae — the lavender family)


common name: scarlet sage

Salvia was the Roman name for the herb sage, probably from salveo, to be well, in good health; splendens is Latin for ‘shining, splendid’.

This native of Brazil is a tropical perennial that is typically grown as a warm weather annual bedding plant, even in temperate climates. English gardens very often grow Salvia interspersed with white Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) as the front row of the herbaceous border. In the USA, the blue Ageratum is often added to those two to give the red, white and blue colours for patriotic landscaping.

The defining characteristic of the Salvia genus is the unusual pollination mechanism, which consists of 2 stamens (instead of the usual 4 found in other members of the tribe Menthae) and the way the 2 stamens are connected to form a lever. When a pollinator enters the flower for nectar, the lever activates, causing the stamens to move and the pollen to be deposited on the pollinator. When the pollinator withdraws from the flower, the lever returns the stamens to their original position. As the pollinator enters another flower of the same species, the stigma is placed in a general location that corresponds to where the pollen was deposited on the pollinator’s body. The lever of most Salvia species is not specialized for a single pollinator, but generic, and selected to be easily released by many bird and bee pollinators of varying shapes and sizes.

The classification of Salvia species has been confused. Many species are similar to each other, and many of them have varieties that have been given different specific names. Salvia officinalis, for example, has been described and named under 6 other specific names at various times. At one time there were over 2,000 named Salvia species; but in recent years this has been reduced to between 700 and 900, depending on which authority one consults.

Salvia splendens is native to the Brazilian rainforest, where the wild form grows to about 150 cm tall. For the garden, there are many cultivars giving a wide range of colours, including white, salmon, pink, purple, lavender, burgundy and orange, as well as the traditional bright red, and heights from about 20 cm to nearly 90 cm. The leaves are bright to dark green, elliptic and toothed. The flowers grow on spikes, and are 2-lipped, with a flatter lower lip and a helmet-shaped upper one.

This plant likes a sunny area with a loamy, well-drained soil.


a tribe is a subdivision of the Family. Menthae is the mint tribe


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2012
Page last updated 28th March 2019