During a visit to Goudini Spa (about 120kms from Cape Town) in 1998, Ernst van Jaarsveld of Kirstenbosch Gardens came across this most unusual Salvia. At first he thought it was a form of S. lanceolata sometimes occurring in inland valleys to the north of this site, but research and comparison with herbarium data, pointed to a new species, which he named Salvia thermarum. S. thermarum (also sometimes mistakenly called S. thermara) produces abundant nectar and is pollinated by sunbirds. Its pale red flowers and red bracts make it a beautiful specimen for the front of the border.
S. thermarum is an erect branched shrub, up to 1m in height with a stoloniferous base. The branches are dark green, up to 3 mm in diameter, the young stems are glandular hairy becoming smooth with age. The leaves are also dark green with purplish tips, no petiole, not fragrant when crushed, oblanceolate to linear oblanceolate, 20-35 mm x 15 mm, serrated at the apex and entire at base.
The inflorescence is a short dense raceme 80-10 mm long (not branched); 3 to 4 verticillasters -a whorl of flowers apparently of one cluster, but composed of two opposite axillary cymes, 2 flowered, pale red to deep salmon corollas, 40-50 mm long, with red bracts. S. thermarum could be easily confused with its relative S. granitica, a species confined to an area south of Citrusdal and the Caledon District. But the latter is a smaller shrub, with a mauve pink corolla, only 20 mm long and elongated racemes.
Ernst van Jaarsveld also noticed that the galls on the stems are perhaps the result of a parasitic wasp. They appear as small growths of about 10 mm in diameter, bearing ovate leaves in a compact rosette.
Distribution and Habitat
S. thermarum occurs on the lower N slope of the Badsberg (adjacent to Slanghoek Mountains) in fynbos, growing among quartzitic sandstone rock and soil. In its natural habitat, S. thermarum grows in full sun in small groups.
Associated species are: Protea nitida, P. laurifolia, Diospyros glabra, Leucadendron salignum, Montinia caryophyllacea, Othonna parviflora, Oldenburgia paradoxa and Maytenus oleoides.
The genus name derives from the latin verb salvare, to save. The species name invokes the thermal baths where S. thermarum was found.
Growing Salvia thermarum
S. thermarum has proved a bit difficult to grow in cultivation. At the Kirstenbosch salvia bed, we are experimenting with growing S. thermarum in the ground and also in pots sunk in the beds. The sunken pots will then be moved to the nursery during the wet winter months to avoid rotting the stolons.
S. thermarum is easily propagated from cuttings taken in the fall or from the division of stolons. Dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone, and place them in a tray with sand or in a well draining rooting medium. When the cuttings are rooted, place the young plants in pots and transplant them the following spring in full sun. Add compost dressing or an organic fertiliser.
S. thermarum is an excellent specimen for rock gardens or planted in large groups to emphasise the effect of its compact flowers. The open form and flexible stems of this salvia make it a perfect specimen for summer hanging baskets as well. S. thermarum flowers in November (early summer) and the copious nectar will attract sunbirds to your garden.
- VAN JAARSVELD, E. 1999. Salvia thermara, a new species from the Western Cape, South Africa. Bothalia 29:100-102.
- VAN JAARSVELD, E. 2002. The Goudini sage. Veld & Flora, June 2002.
Paula de la Cruz