of the sage family are known worldwide as excellent herbs and beautiful
garden plants. Salvia chamelaeagnea, which grows wild in
the south western Cape, is no exception. Flowering bright blue during
the long hot summers, these plants are easy to find in the dry landscape
where they grow along seepage areas, riverbeds and in sandy soil
among rocks. Salvia chamelaeagnea is well adapted to survive
fires, which regularly sweep though the fynbos vegetation, by resprouting
from its woody rootstock.
Salvia chamelaeagnea forms a dense shrub, growing almost
2 metres high, with many strong, upright stems. The stems are square-
shaped, a typical feature of the family Lamiaceae. Leaves are formed
opposite each other along the stems or on short side branches, and
often grow in tufts. The bright green leaves are slightly hairy
and sometimes the edges are toothed. The leaves are dotted with
glands which emit a very strong scent when touched and leave a sticky,
bitter-tasting residue on fingers.
flowers are formed in whorls along the top third of the stems, any
time between November and May. Individual plants flower for a month
or two. The flowers are on small side branches; opening from the
bottom upwards towards the tips of the stems. The large calyx is
usually an attractive reddish-purple colour. It is covered with
small hairs and is also dotted with glands. The corolla, which we
usually call the flower, varies in colour from blue, mauve, pink
to pure white. Flowers with a dark blue top lip and white lower
lip are the most common.
The 2-lipped flower has adapted a very interesting shape for pollination.
The bottom lip forms a platform for insects, such as bees, to alight
upon while collecting nectar. The anthers and stigma, protected
by the hooded top lip of the flower, protrude just enough for the
hinged anthers to move down to deposit their pollen and the curved
stigma to collect pollen from the back of a visiting bee.
Growing Salvia chamelaeagnea
chamelaeagnea is an evergreen shrub that is easy to grow, flowering
in a range of colours through summer. With its upright growth and
fresh green foliage it also provides texture contrast in a planting.
For best results, these plants require full sun, well-drained, good
garden soil and regular water, especially in winter.
The blue Salvia chamelaeagnea looks beautiful when flowering
with blue agapanthus. The white form looks lovely mixed with other
green foliage plants, giving the garden a fresh and cool look during
the midsummer heat. Plants can be maintained in the garden for several
years, but need to be cut back after flowering to keep them tidy
Salvia chamelaeagnea can be propagated from seed or cuttings.
Sow the seeds in spring in a seed tray filled with a well-drained
medium. The young seedlings grow fast and can be planted into individual
containers as soon as they are big enough to handle. They respond
well to organic fertilizers and can be planted out as soon as the
roots are nice and strong. The tips of the stems can be pinched
to form bushy plants. Seedlings flower from a year to 18 months
after sowing. To get a selected colour form it is best to propagate
the salvia from cuttings. These can be made from the young shoots
which form at the bottom of the plant in spring and early summer.
Like many of the other sages, Salvia chamelaeagnea is used
for a wide variety ailments such as coughs, colds, diarrhea, colic,
heartburn and flatulence. A tea, to be sipped slowly a few times
a day, is usually made from the fresh or dried leaves and flowers.
In southern Africa 22 Salvia species occur naturally, with
most of them distributed through the south western Cape. Between
800 and 900 species of Salvia are found in the temperate
and tropical regions of the world.
Author: Liesl van der Walt