935 Salvia leucanthaCommon Names: Mexican bush sage, Mexican sage, velvet sage Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Mexican bush sage is a bushy evergreen subshrub in frostfree climes, and a returning perennial where it gets frosted back in winter. It grows in a loose, spreading mound up to 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) tall and about the same width. The leaves are lance shaped, like willow leaves, 1-5 in (2.5-12.7 cm) long, puckery on top and white-wooly underneath. They are on petioles about an inch long and arranged in opposite pairs along the squarish stems. The young, fast growing stems are thick and conspicuously white-wooly.
From autumn throughout winter (or until the first frost) Mexican bush sage blooms with white flowers 1-2 (2.5-5 cm) long that extend from velvety purple or lavender-blue calyces. The bicolored inflorescences are borne in very showy elongated arching clusters 6-12 (15-30.5 cm) in length at the ends of erect, spreading stems. At any given time, there will be just a few actual flowers per cluster, but lots of pretty purple calyces. These inflorescences are profuse and extend way beyond the foliage, making this one of the most attractive of the salvias. Some cultivars of Mexican bush sage (for example, 'Midnight' and 'Purple Velvet') have flowers the same color as the purple calyces.
Salvia leucantha is a handsome sage that is native to Central America and Mexico.
CultureLight: Full sun is best, but Mexican bush sage can tolerate afternoon shade; it may tend to get leggy and top heavy, however, if it has to reach for the sun. Moisture: Mexican bush sage can tolerate some drought - better than most salvias. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. Mexican bush sage is sometimes grown as an annual. It needs a long season to grow and doesn't start blooming until very late summer or even into autumn. Propagation: Mexican bush sage is easy to propagate from root cuttings and stems that have rooted where they touch the ground. Ordinary stem cuttings can also be rooted.
Give Mexican bush sage plenty of room. It grows and grows all summer long - and the foliage is attractive - but the real show doesn't start until autumn. As it flowers, the plant spreads outward and is subject to fall over and break off stems. Remove flower clusters as they age to reduce the weight on the stems. It might be a good idea to prune back your Mexican bush sage in early summer to promote a bushier habit and to keep it from getting so top heavy that stems break off.
Use Mexican bush sage in mixed hedges along with rosemary, butterfly bush and other salvias like blue anise sage or autumn sage. Its soft grayish foliage is attractive all summer long as an accent to the other shrubs that are blooming; then in the autumn when most of the other shrubs are getting tired, Mexican bush sage comes into its own.
Mexican bush sage, with its graceful arching stems and soft downy foliage, is one of our favorite salvias. The fuzzy purple calyces are the main show, and these persist even after the actual flowers have fallen off, making Mexican bush sage one of the few salvias suitable for use as a cut flower. It may also be used in everlasting arrangements as the calyces retain their color after drying. The butterflies that seem to materialize out of the blue in autumn are drawn like magnets to this and other late blooming salvias.
Steve Christman 10/27/01; updated 9/1/03