743 Salvia lyrataCommon Names: lyreleaf sage, cancerweed Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
This perennial wildflower forms a basal rosette of 3-8 in (7.6-20.3 cm) elongated leaves that broaden toward the tips. The stalked leaves have irregular margins that usually appear pinnately lobed or cut. They may be solid green or blotched with a dark wine-purple along the midrib. A 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) hairy square stem emerges from this rosette to bear uneven whorls of two-lipped lavender to blue flowers. The shorter upper lip of the tubular 1 in (2.5 cm) flower has three lobes; the lower longer lip has two. Heaviest flowering is typically during a several-week period between April and June, but the plants may produce a few flowers at almost any time of year, especially if mowing disrupts the usual bloom period. The egg-shaped seeds, which turn dark brown when ripe, are held loosely in a cup-like structure. 'Purple Knockout' has striking burgundy leaves that age to dark purple, but the flowers of this cultivar are small and green with burgundy tips and look more like seed pods than actual flowers.
Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata, is native to the eastern United States. It grows as far north as Connecticut and as far west as Oklahoma.
CultureLyreleaf sage can hold its own with perennial grasses, but mowing to limit competition from taller plants is critical if this species is to form a showy stand in a lawn or meadow. The first spring mowing should be delayed until after the seed matures, which is usually sometime in May. The plants can tolerate regular close mowing through the summer and need to be mowed at least once in the fall. Annual fertilization with 13-13-13 at 3.5-5.5 oz/100 sq ft (100-150 lbs/acre) is recommended for highway beautification plantings, but the plants will do fine in most soils with no additional fertilizer. Light: Lyreleaf sage will grow in full sun to light shade, but the foliage color is stronger in brighter light. Moisture: Although lyreleaf sage tolerates both flooding and drought very well, it grows best in moist soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. Propagation: Lyreleaf sage is easy to grow from seed. The mature seeds fall off the stalk readily when it is shaken and can easily be harvested by hand or machine. Seeds may be sown where they are to grow anytime during the growing season, but late summer plantings seem to yield the most plants. Seeds must be scattered onto stable mineral soil; leaf litter, thatch, or loosely tilled dirt will interfere with germination. For a dense stand, sow about 5 lbs/acre and press the seed firmly into the soil. They germinate at the surface and should not be buried more than 1/8 in (0.3 cm) deep.
Lyreleaf sage is an excellent choice for planting along roads, trails, and driveways and in low-maintenance multi-species lawns. Scattered individuals seem lost in showy wildflower meadows, but dense stands are attractive in swales and half-shaded places around the edge of a meadow. The young leaves have a mild minty flavor and may be used in salads or cooked as a potherb. The entire plant (harvested and dried as the flowers begin to bloom in the spring), or just the seeds, can be brewed as a tea, which, sweetened with honey, makes a soothing bedtime beverage. The seeds can be ground into flour and used in baking bread. The leaves were once thought to be useful as an external "cure" for cancer. They were also considered a remedy for warts and the roots were made into an astringent salve and applied to sores. The tea was used to treat asthma, coughs, and colds and as a gargle for sore throats and mouth infections.
This is a seldom-used, easy-to-grow American native plant that shows great potential for development and commercial propagation of horticultural varieties with striking foliage and attractive flowers.
Please note, however, that lyreleaf sage may reseed too prolifically and compete too aggressively to be an acceptable citizen in a civilized flower garden. And, if you like manicured lawns, you won't want this weed anywhere near them.
Linda Conway Duever 7/1/00; updated 1/25/04