There are many fascinating plants in the sage family. As garden
plants, some may be more interesting than beautiful, but Salvia
muirii, with its large intense blue flowers throughout summer,
performs to perfection. This beautiful plant is easy to grow in
a pot, rockery or garden bed. Finding Salvia muirii in the
veld however is not so easy, for the natural populations are restricted
to only a few localities in the southern Cape. Here they grow in
dry fynbos in sandy soils along a narrow strip following the northern
foothills of the Langeberg near Riversdale to the Great Brak River
near Mossel Bay. The first collection of plants of Salvia muirii
was made in 1915 by Dr John Muir, an enthusiastic plant collector
who lived in the southern Cape and who contributed greatly to our
knowledge of the plants of this area
muirii is a small, twiggy, evergreen shrub that grows only about
30 cm high. It has a woody stem and an underground rootstock that
gives it the ability to resprout easily after fires. The leaves
are leathery, oval in shape and light green to almost grey in colour.
When crushed, they are slightly sticky and release a light scent
that is reminiscent of Vicks.
The flowers appear from mid-summer until autumn (December-March),
opening in pairs at the tip of each stem. The stems continue to
grow forming new buds, while the older flowers fall off and only
their dark red bracts remain. The flowers, which are quite large
for such a small plant, are blue with a characteristic white mark
on the lower lip. The flower shape is typical of Salvia,
with the upper lip hooded or closed while the lower lip opens wide
and flat. The small black spherical seeds sit deep inside the remaining
flower bracts and are released about a month after flowering, when
the bracts are dry.
Growing Salvia muirii
Salvia muirii is a delight to have in the garden, particularly
during summer when it is covered with flowers. This little woody
shrub is also long-lived, drought resistant and almost pest free.
It is easy to grow with the most important requirements being full
sun and well-drained soil. To encourage compact bushy growth it
should be pruned lightly throughout the year and fed regularly with
an organic fertilizer.
Like so many other salvias, Salvia muirii is popular with
bees in the garden. At Kirstenbosch we grow a particularly dark
blue form of Salvia muirii that will be released soon as
a special selection. This good form of Salvia muirii was
collected and introduced into horticulture by Ernst van Jaarsveld,
a great plantsman with a particular interest in salvias.
New plants of Salvia muirii can be propagated from cuttings
or seed. The best time to make cuttings is in spring or summer,
using the fresh, new growth. The plants also produce plenty of seed
that is best sown during autumn or winter. The seed germinates within
about 10 days and produces strong, vigorous seedlings that often
flower in their first year.
In South Africa there are more than thirty species of Salvia.
Worldwide there are between 800 and 900 species, widely distributed
throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the northern and
southern hemispheres. The best-known salvia is sage, Salvia officinalis,
from the Mediterranean, which has been used since ancient times
as a powerful healing plant and strong culinary herb. The name salvia
comes from the Latin salvere, which means to be in good health,
to cure and to save.
- Bremness, Lesley, 1988, The Complete Book of Herbs, Dorling
- van Jaarsveld, Ernst, Salvia muirii-'n Nuwe Blou Salie, Veld
en Flora, December 1983
- Flora of Southern Africa, 1985, Volume 28 Part 4
Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden