Flower Identification Resource Guide

Identifying flowering plants is useful. You can decide whether that bloom will thrive in your garden, if those leaves are edible, and which plants are poisonous. The right flower identification tools will educate you on the blossoms around you. These plant identification resources are a starting point on your journey. Soon, you’ll see wildlife in a whole new way.

USDA: Plants Database

A comprehensive state-by-state flower identification guide.

Invasive Riparian Plant Identification Guides

An appendix of invasive alien plants.

My Wildflowers: Identify

An interactive flower identification tool.

Family Guide to Wildflowers

An interactive guide to known flower characteristics.

Better Homes and Gardens: Plant Encyclopedia

Pick the best plants for your garden.

National Park Service: Vegetation Inventory

Check out an inventory of vegetation throughout US National Parks.

Random Access Identification Key

Enter habitat and growth information for flower identification in Washington.

Plant Identification: Examining Leaves

Learn how to distinguish plants by their leaves.

AQUAPLANT: Plant Identification

Photos and descriptions to help with aquatic plant identification.

Plant Identification Pictionary (PDF)

A lesson plan to help children with flower identification.

Aquatic Invasive Species Monitoring (PDF)

Learn to identify aquatic species in Indiana.

Wildflowers of New England

Identify wildflowers by family, color, or leaves.

House Plant 411

Identify and learn to care for house plants.

Field Identification of the 50 Most Common Plant Families in Temperate Regions (PDF)

A comprehensive flower identification tool for this region.

Learn to garden with native California flowers.

Edible Flowers

A fast fact sheet about edible flowers.

Herbarium Plant Identification

Learn how to send unidentified North Carolina species in for professional identification.

Floriculture Plant Index

An extensive index of Oklahoma flowers.

Flower Pictures

Identify flowers from one of seven groups by pictures.


A detailed encyclopedia of plants.

How to Identify Target Plants (PDF)

Identify plants as well as their flowering or fruiting statuses.

Plant Identification Game

An interactive game to help you identify plants in the Florida Keys.


A (flower identification tool) with multiple entries.

Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains (and Beyond)

Pictures of wildflowers throughout the Santa Monica region.

Southeastern Flora

Identify plants in the Southeastern US.

Flower Identification

A guide to plant identification in Texas.

World Wide FLowering Plant Family Identification

A flower identification guide using characteristics.

Garden Plant Identification

A quick guide to flowers and plant names.

Go Botany

A resource for New England plants.

How to Identify Plants

A beginning guide to identifying plants.

Identify a Plant by Major Group or Color

Learn to use group and color for (plant identification).

Flower Identification Quiz

A quiz on identifying plants.

Wildflower Identification

Colorful pictures for flower identification.

Common Summer Wildflowers of West Virginia

An informative listing of wildflowers in this state.

Dave’s Garden

A plant reference for gardeners.

Plant Finder Tool

Find the perfect plants to garden with.

Wildflowers, Ferns, and Trees

Identify flowers and plants in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.

Virtual Herbarium

Interactive keys for tropical flowers.

Using a Dichotomous Key to Identify Flowers (PDF)

A guide to using a dichotomous key.

Identify the Wild Plants of Western North America

A guide to the traits of plants in this area.

Written By Ava Rose.

If you are like me, you are probably pretty good at the parlor game of identifying certain plants: the flowers your grandmother grew in her garden, the pine cones you spray-painted gold in third grade, and forsythia (if blooming). Unfortunately this is not that helpful when you come across some new plant growing on the side of the road, or over a fence, or at the edge of a trail—that you would like to have, if only you knew how to ask for it at the local nursery.

Welcome to Throwback Sunday, featuring readers’ favorite posts from the past.

Now they make apps for people like us. Zillions of electronic field guides such as Leafsnap, Plantifier, and iPflanzen exist to help us identify plants on the fly. Snap a plant’s photo against a white background—and submit it instantly for analysis. Or click through a list of characteristics (leaf shape, flower color, plant’s height) to make the identification. (See our review of Plantifer, a plant ID app for Android and iPhone users.)

To see how well free plant identification apps work, two of my daughters (Zoe and Clem) and I recently downloaded a few and spent a morning playing CSI: Plant Detective. Here’s what we learned.

Photography by Zoe Quittner, except where noted.

Above: We walked around the neighborhood collecting specimens—leaves from trees, wild herbs, flowers, and perennial vines–to put the garden apps through their paces. Our neighbors Steven and Minna, who drove by while we were snipping leaves from a tree, rolled down the car window to shout helpfully, “Try Google.” Everybody’s an expert.Above: Maple tree? That’s what we thought too, initially. Our neighbor Lynn walked by while we were discussing the possibility. Lynn (who it turns out studied botany in college) offered this verdict: sweet gum. Could we confirm the ID?Above: Back home, we spread an array of similarly shaped tree leaves against a background of white paper and then submitted photos to Leafsnap, which uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from photos of their leaves. (Coincidentally, Leafsnap was developed by my friend Peter Belhumeur, a researcher at Columbia University.)

Leafsnap correctly identified both a leaf from a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and the similar leaf of the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). Lynn was right.

Above: Leafsnap matches a photo to images in its library of several hundred species of trees common to the Northeastern United States and Washington, D.C.Above: Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) grows in my front garden. To test other gardening apps with their own databases of plants, we offered several data points about the flower (color, shape of corolla, number of petals, etc.); the leaf (shape, margin characteristics, etc.); the plant’s habitat and seasonality, and its other characteristics (height, hairiness, thorniness). But none of the six results the other apps suggested were accurate. Photograph by Clementine Quittner.Above: Taking photos against a white background.

Gardening on Salvia

First time I ever smoked salvia, I was about 14. I was a very sheltered kid at the time. I had never taken a hallucinogen before, I had only ever smoked weed and drank.

Now, this probably sounds a little silly, but I did not believe “Hallucinating” was a real thing. I thought people were making it up, or just faking it to “be cool”.

So, I show up to a small party, and my friend convinces me to try it. Before I know it, I am sitting in a circle of people all taking turns smoking the salvia. One person smokes, we watch them trip out, laugh a little, then pass the pipe. The whole time this is happening, I am just in complete denial. Saying to myself “this is so stupid, do they honestly think they are fooling anyone?”. Ohhh, how naive I was.

Finally, the pipe comes to me. I am instructed on what to do, and they hand me the lighter. I take a big monster of a rip, hold it in, and say to myself “this is so fucking stuu– OOHH MY FFLLUURFCCKING GAWERD!!” Literally as I exhale, the room starts to transform around me, and I am suddenly transported to a new world! The only thing I could see, were these dinosaurs, driving a convertible car, down a freeway, with me being chained to the bumper and being drug down the asphalt. Never in my life have I experience such terror. I was constantly questioning reality, unable to tell if it were real or not.

When I finally came down from the trip, as you can probably guess, my world and mind had been completely blown. My psyche torn to complete shreds. And ever since then, I have never been able to take a hallucinogenic without having a terrible trip. And I have done quite a few now. Sad really. All I want to do is be in a happy blissful state while tripping on some crazy drug, but I fear the day will never come.

TL;DR – Didn’t believe hallucinating was possible. Smoked salvia as my first time hallucinogenic experience. Saw crazy shit. Questioned reality. Ruined hallucinogens for myself forever.

Meet the Sketch Comedian Who Got Famous Smoking Salvia on YouTube

As part of comedy team lets GOtoCLASS, 31-year-old Los Angeles resident Erik Hoffstad pumps out YouTube sketches skewering topics ranging from skeevy prank shows to internet trolls. Before that, though, he became internet-famous through a series of faux-instructional videos in which he smoked Salvia and attempted—or, more accurately, failed—to do daily tasks like gardening and driving a car while on the drug.

Hoffstad appeared on Wednesday’s episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacoepia to discuss his experiences with Salvia, and I spoke with him on the phone earlier this week to talk about how he got into making funny videos on the internet, what his parents think about his Salvia-related notoriety, and what advice he has for people looking to take the drug for the first time. Just make sure you don’t smoke any Salvia before reading this—save it for after.

VICE: How did you get into working in the medium of video?
Erik Hoffstad: My high school had a really good media program, and the teacher let us have our way with the equipment. Eventually, everybody started downloading editing software to make projects on their own, and a good number of kids who came out of that media program probably still do that to this day. The first video I ever made was a recut trailer for The Horse Whisperer where I made it look like a horror movie.

I’ve enjoyed using hallucinogens over the years, but Salvia has always scared me—to the point where I’ve never touched it. Were you apprehensive the first time you smoked it?
If I’d known what it did, I don’t think I would’ve touched it either. I had no level of apprehension whatsoever, though—I had nothing to be apprehensive of, you know? I smoke weed, I drink beer, so I’ll take a new thing. My friends brought it over, and when they said they bought it at a gas station, I was like, “OK, this can’t be that bad, right?” And they were telling me, “Oh, you’ve got to try it, it’s really crazy.” I smoked it, they were looking at me waiting for something to happen, and I was like, “Oh Christ, what did I just do?” That’s when the apprehension might have started. Salvia does kind of the same thing every time you smoke it—you don’t build a tolerance. Every time I smoke it, it knocks me out and turns me into a little baby.

Is Salvia your favorite drug?
Far from it. I don’t feel the need to go on vision quests on a regular basis. I’ll take a joint any day.

Tell me about the decision to make YouTube videos about smoking Salvia.
Me and my friend Chris Lader have our YouTube channel let’sGOtoCLASS, but before that we’d get together on random weekends and shoot funny sketches. YouTube was just beginning at that time, and there were plenty of people who were carving out their niche. We had just gotten out of film school and saw that we could put our stupid videos up somewhere. Our the first one was called “Billy’s Guitar Lesson,” and it did pretty well, so we were like, “Let’s keep doing this.” The salvia sketches are the channel’s heavy hitters.

How’d you come up with the conceit behind the Salvia videos?
The effect it has on you makes you fairly useless. I wasn’t the first one to put up Salvia videos on YouTube—there were dozens up before I’d even thought of doing a video—but they were all the same thing. They’d smoke it and they’d flop over on their side and ramble. It’s endearing—you could be the most racist asshole in the world, but when you smoke Salvia you turn into an adorable child. “David After Dentist” is a very similar thing—this little kid who’s zonked out on pain meds and saying ludicrous stuff. A lot of funny Salvia trips are usually when they zone out and say something that makes no sense. People really love that shit.

Was there ever a concern that you were being too lighthearted about such an unpredictable drug?
No, there wasn’t much concern. The fact that it was something that you could go out and buy in a store took the worry out of it. Anything in the wrong hands can be dangerous—alcohol, pot brownies. You shouldn’t do too much of something.

When did you first notice that the videos were taking off?
I put the first one up on the Something Awful forums and that gave it a push because a big group of people were sharing it. It was very strange—I’d log on and all of a sudden it would have 100,000 views. I was like, “Jesus Christ, this is awesome.”

Did you receive any negative attention because of the video?
Yeah—KTLA and Fox 5 would do investigations about, “Has the Salvia craze gone too far?” and they’d have me smoking out of a bong in my car. I didn’t drive, though—I didn’t even have my car keys.

What did your family think?
They think it’s funny now, but they didn’t think it was funny at the time. They thought it was terrible, and I’m sure that if I have kids one day, they’re going to do something stupid on the internet and I’m going to have to feel that burn. I got interviewed by the New York Times about Salvia, and there was this picture of me in a fucking sunhat with a bong in my hand smoking Salvia in the article. My dad saw it and was like, “What is this?” I woke up at noon that day and had a bunch of missed calls from him, so I called him back and was like, “Dad, what happened—is everyone OK?” He was like, “Why the fuck are you smoking a bong in the New York Times, Erik?” I was like, “Oh, listen, that’s fake.”

Did he believe you?
No, but he accepted it anyway. My mom was like, “Listen, thanks for telling us it’s fake—we’re going to choose to believe that.” Over time, though, they’ve been more inquisitive. At one point, my mom asked me what the high was like, and I explained it to her. They’re not closed-minded whatsoever—they’re just worried that if I go get a job and my name is googled, there’s going to be a picture of me smoking a bong. They’re not as worried about what I’m doing to my body as they are about what I’m doing to my career.

Have the Salvia videos negatively affected your career?
No, not at all. When I filmed the videos, I was working in the art department on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so I emailed them a link to one of the Salvia videos. They were like, “Hey Erik, we saw the Salvia video—are you OK man? Are you going to hurt yourself?” I was like, “No, no, it’s funny,” and they were like, “Oh, OK.” That was the extent of the videos affecting my career.

What were the positives that you experienced when it came to filming the videos and smoking Salvia in general?
I’m glad I experienced it. Initially, when Hamilton was interviewing me, I was like, “It’s terrible, it leaves you sweaty, and there’s nothing fun about it.” But the more I thought about it—even before doing it with him—I was like, “You know, it’s really wasn’t that bad.” It’s actually kind of relaxing—it’s interesting to put your mind into that place. You can have a hallucinatory journey in the course of five minutes, and it’s interesting that we can make our brains do that. If we were allowed to study it further, we’d be able to do some interesting stuff with it beyond getting people high. Classifying it as a dangerous drug is the greatest detriment you can possibly do to something like Salvia.

What advice would you give to someone who’s about to smoke Salvia for the first time?
My advice would be, “How much thought have you put into this?” One of my friends tried it out for the first time, and within two minutes she stood up and face-planted into the wall. It affects everyone differently, and I can’t recommend it to anyone unless they’re aware of what their limits are. I’m surprised it didn’t make me freak out, but I think that’s because I drink a ton of beers before I smoke it. If somebody came to me right now and was like, “I’m smoking Salvia right now, what can I do to make it good?” I’d tell them to go outside, drink two beers, smoke just a tiny bit, and then when that tiny bit doesn’t work, smoke a lot of it. When that works, you’ll see why you never want to do it again.

Follow Larry Fitzmaurice on Twitter.

You can catch Hamilton’s Pharmacoepia on VICELAND. Find out how to watch here.

Growing Salvia – Tips On Growing And Caring For Different Types Of Salvia

Growing salvia is something every gardener should try. Learning how to grow salvia and how to take care of salvia plants provides the gardener with a wide range of sights and smells, as there are many different types of salvia. Find out about the different salvia plant types and choose the one that appeals to your senses for the bare spot in the garden.

Salvia Plant Types for the Garden

Blooms of most salvia plants are long lasting and attract butterflies and pollinators, which are always good for the garden. Salvia plant types may be annual or perennial, most are rapid growers and tolerate summer heat with more graceful, spiky blooms.

Many colors are available from different types of salvia and these include blues, purples, pinks, reds as well as some whites and yellows. Some salvias even take on a shrub-like appearance, such as rose sage (Salvia pachyphylla).

The foliage

of growing salvia remains attractive for the season and is often the source of the fragrance. Depending on the salvia plant types you choose, you may experience the fragrance of pineapple (Salvia elegans), fruit (Salvia dorisiana) or the common spice sage (Salvia officinalis). In addition, the recently popular Chia plant seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant.

How to Grow Salvia

Salvia is also referred to as sage in many different types of salvia. Learning how to grow salvia varies among the different types of salvia too. They can be planted from seeds, seedlings or cuttings when the soil has warmed outside, following the last frost date.

You can plant salvia in average soil in a sunny to partly shady location for most varieties. Some growing salvia plants, however, such as Japanese yellow sage (Salvia koyamae), like shade and rich moist soil. When planting different types of salvia with which you are not familiar, research each plant to find their preferred growing conditions.

Care of Salvia Plants

A member of the mint family, the care of salvia plants is moderate with most growing salvia varieties.

Requirements with watering, as with growing, varies among the different salvias, but most prefer to dry out between waterings to ½ an inch deep.

Fertilization with a time-release plant food encourages growth and more flowering spikes.

Salvias flower on spiky racemes or panicles rising above the plant. When blooms are spent, remove these spikes to encourage additional flowering. If the salvia plant begins to look tired or overgrown by midsummer, you can also remove one third of the plant. Salvia plants will regrow and reward you with blooms that last until autumn.

6 Salvias for Shade

Most gardeners associate plants in the genus Salvia with full sun, rocky soil, drought and semi-arid native lands. Although a number of sages fit this picture, far more appreciate loamy, fertile garden soil. Some require lots of water. Also, a large number of sages thrive in partial shade, and some tolerate full shade.
However, before talking about six of our favorite choices for partial shade, it’s necessary to explain what we mean by shade. This requires defining four categories — full, partial, afternoon and morning shade.
Degrees of Shade

Full Shade. This is shade all, or almost all, of the day and is also called ‘deep shade.’ There is so little light that no shadows are cast. This condition occurs under dense trees or on the north side of a structure. Few Salvias do their best in these conditions.
Partial Shade. This degree of light is also called “broken shade” or ‘dappled sunlight.’ You find it under leafy deciduous trees, on the edge of woodlands or under shade structures, such as pergolas. This is generally the best shade for Salvias.
Afternoon Shade. The phrase ‘afternoon shade’ implies that morning sun is either needed or tolerated. It also is referred to as ‘part day sun.’ This situation is best for plants that need some direct sunlight, but don’t fare well in full sun during the hottest time of day. Morning sun and afternoon shade allow a smart gardener to grow shade plants in unexpected locations. Care in selecting location is called for, because a brief stint of hot afternoon sun can cook the tender leaves of some plants.
Morning Shade. In contrast to afternoon shade, morning shade implies afternoon sunlight. Plants that don’t require full sunshine, but love heat, can do well in locations offering morning shade and afternoon sun. Shade Salvias rarely prefer this kind of setting.
Salvias Made for the Shade

Giant Bolivian Sage (Salvia dombeyi) Zones 9 to 11.

  • Crimson flowers with burgundy bracts
  • Blooms summer to fall
  • 72 inches tall on average, 35 inches wide
  • Dark green foliage
  • Partial to full shade; morning sun with afternoon shade

In all but the deepest shade, this almost-vining Salvia is a knockout and a favorite for hummingbirds on our farm. A native of Bolivia and Peru, it is big all over with flowers and leaves both 5 inches long. In some frost-free areas this sage rises up to 20 feet tall when supported by a trellis or wall.
Fruit Scented Sage (Salvia dorisiana) Zones 9 to 11.

  • Magenta-pink flowers
  • Blooms winter to spring
  • 48 inches tall, 24 inches wide
  • Fragrant, kelly-green, heart-shaped leaves
  • Full sun to partial shade

This culinary sage grows best in partial shade. We can’t keep up with orders, because customers find the fruity perfume of its foliage irresistible. Hummingbirds feel the same way about its nectar. So add it to your kitchen garden, a perennial border or a patio container.
Chiapas Sage (Salvia chiapensis) Zones 7 to 11.

  • Magenta-pink flowers
  • Blooms spring to fall
  • 36 to 48 inches tall, 36 inches wide
  • Textured, Kelly green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade

Chiapas Sage even grows well in deep shade, but don’t expect it to flower there. In partial shade, it blooms just fine and attracts hummingbirds. Plant it in a perennial border or dry garden and as edging along a path.
Blue Vine Sage (Salvia cacaliifolia) Zones 8 to 11.

  • Royal blue flowers
  • Blooms summer to fall
  • 36 to 54 inches tall, 42 inches wide
  • Dark green foliage
  • Partial shade or morning sun with afternoon shade

The deep azure flowers of Blue Vine Sage look great among plants with yellow, gold or light blue flowers. This sage spreads gently, making it a perfect choice for the edge of a woodland garden. It doesn’t need lots of water, but does well in moist areas.
Buchanan’s Sage (Salvia buchananii) Zones 9 to 11.

  • Magenta flowers
  • Blooms spring to summer
  • 36 to 48 inches tall, 36 inches wide
  • Purple-tinged, glossy foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade; morning sun with afternoon shade

This favorite of Mexican courtyards is great in containers and grows well in all but the darkest shade. The hot pink of its pendulous, fuzzy flowers — more than 2 inches long — light up a shady garden. This is one of our best sellers.
Wendy’s Wish Sage (Salvia x ‘Wendy’s Wish’) Zones 9 to 11.

  • Magenta flowers
  • Blooms spring to fall
  • 36 to 48 inches tall, 36 inches wide
  • Dark green foliage with maroon stems
  • Full sun to partial shade

This popular sage comes from a chance seedling found in an Australian garden. Although discovered near a Lolly Jackson Mexican Sage (Salvia mexicana ‘Lolly Jackson’), it resembles Buchanan’s Sage in color and flower size. All of the royalties paid for this patented plant go to cancer research. Wendy’s Wish looks lovely edging a path, in a patio container or as part of a perennial border.

The Salva Finder

We’ve built a special tool for helping you find the perfect Salvia for your garden. The Salvia Finder allows you to easilly view a gallery of photos, selected by a range of characteristics. Just pick Exposure: Shade to see them all.
Sharing Your Shade-Salvia Experiences
As always, we would love to receive your opinions and observations. Growing Salvias in shade sometimes is tricky. Whether you have experienced success or failure, send us a note or call to share your knowledge. The plants listed here are only a few of the Salvia species that we have grown successfully in shade, so feel free to ask us for more suggestions to add to your shade garden.

I cannot make a list of salvias that will be good in shade anywhere in Australia. Warmth and moisture will also be a big factor. It generally needs to be shade with light and whether or not there is root competition comes into it. Even the planting time will make a difference as to whether you can establish salvias well under trees and whether or not the trees are deciduous.

In general the majority of salvias tolerate part shade, they are a very adaptable plant. A salvia recommended for desert like conditions is saying it wants sun, so they obviously will not be good in shade. Planting under birch trees which give winter light will be different to planting under a gum tree. Sometimes the plants will not be as tidy grower if it wants to lean towards the light. Occasionally the lack of light will mean less flowers. A few salvias demand shade.

If you have two areas of the same plant, one in shade and one in sun, the planting in shade will flower a week or two later.

One of the most useful, except for humid conditions, is salvia forskaohlei. In time this plant will have very large leaves that are great ground covers. Evergreen foliage is low. Spikes of purple flowers keep coming in warmer weather. There is also a white forskaohlei but it is not as vigorous as the purple.

Salvia chiapensis

Salvia koyamae

Taller plants are salvia ‘Black Knight’ and involucrata Bethelii.

Those charming spots of high shade in the garden, where your head and eyes are protected from glaring sunlight, are more likely than not difficult areas for plants to flourish. Pools of high shade are captivating and can be wonderful places to stop for a few moments to enjoy plants close at hand, as well as to savor a view across the garden. But what plants can be inspected nearby and yet not obstruct the scene? Groundcovers? Yes, ajugas and others can thickly cover such an area, remaining low and unobtrusive. When our imagination comes into play, however, other plants become likely candidates. I recommend three salvias, all with pale yellow flowers, for these most agreeable areas.

Consider a plant that reaches from one to three feet in height and a little more in width, with good green foliage. Soft yellow flowers add their charm for about a month or so. Two of the salvias, from different parts of the world, are sometimes confused with one another, but, as you will see, their characters are easily distinguished, whether the plants are flowering or not. A third yellow-flowered contender for summertime shade has a lax rather than an upright habit.

Salvia glutinosa. Images scanned by Joanne Koltnow

Salvia glutinosa

Found across Europe and western Asia, Salvia glutinosa usually occurs in mountainous regions, in protected environments near woodland edges. Described by Linnaeus in 1753, S. glutinosa was known long before that date in central Europe for its pleasingly scented glands; the specific name, glutinosa, refers to this attribute. Both flowers and calyces are covered with glands and were used along with the leaves to flavor wine. The plant’s common name is Jupiter’s distaff (Jupiter’s wife), Jupiter being the supreme god of the ancient Romans who controlled the heavens and weather—and, consequently, controlled the production and festivals of wine.

A deciduous perennial, Salvia glutinosa is a rangy plant. Sometimes reaching three feet (one meter) in height, it usually attains only two feet (sixty centimeters). Graduated and hairy, the hastate (arrow-shaped) leaves are widely spaced along the stem. They are parsley green in color with petioles that are almost as long as the leaf itself. The leaf margin is clearly dentate, with coarse teeth that point outward. The inflorescence is about one foot (thirty centimeters) in length, with pale yellow flowers in whorls of two to six. The upper lip of the attractive flower is flecked with tiny maroon dots. The closest description of the flower color, using the Royal Horticulture Society’s Colour Chart, is Yellow Group 9C for the corolla, with dots of Red-Purple Group 59B on the upper lips. Flowering begins in early summer and, though it may be abundant, can be overlooked because of the flower’s delicate color. Deadheading spent inflorescences before seed production will stimulate flowering for a longer period of time, possibly well into the autumn.

A location with high shade and free-draining, friable garden soil containing lots of humus offers ideal conditions for growing Salvia glutinosa. Weekly watering during dry summers is recommended for this cold tolerant plant. It is reported to withstand temperatures below 0° F (-18° C). In late autumn or early winter, when tidying the garden, be sure to remove the season’s top growth to prevent fungal activity in the plant’s crown during winter. Propagate by seed or cuttings taken in late summer.

Salvia nubicola

Salvia nubicola

Known in the wild for appearing in a variety of habitats, including sunny slopes, Salvia nubicola has proven to adjust exceptionally well to conditions of high shade in the garden. A deciduous perennial found at low and high elevations, its specific epithet, nubicola, means “dweller among clouds.” Its distribution extends from Afghanistan through southwestern Asia to Bhutan. Brought to the United States and Europe from various collecting trips in Asia, it is well established in horticulture both here and abroad.

The erect stems of Salvia nubicola sometimes reach three feet (one meter) in height but more often are less than that. The fresh green leaves are well spaced along the stem, triangular in outline, and held on a petiole that is about the same length as the leaf.

Flowering begins in summer, and, if the inflorescences are deadheaded, a second flowering will follow. Pale yellow, two-lipped flowers, with a cleft in the lower lip and reddish brown spotting on both lips, appear in whorls of two to six flowers. The nearest color of the flowers, using the Royal Horticulture Society’s Colour Chart is Yellow Group 10A, with markings of Greyed-Purple Group 184B. The bright green calyx is hairy and sticky, with glands that emit a light medicinal odor. Seed will mature in autumn and propagation, by cuttings taken in late August, will produce plants that can be held in a greenhouse for planting in the following spring.

High shade and quick-draining, humus-rich soil are the essential cultural requirements for Salvia nubicola, along with regular weekly water. Hardy to 0° F (-18° C), the stems should be removed at the end of autumn in order to prevent fungal activity and to ensure the health of the plant.

Botanically S. nubicola is related to S. glutinosa, although they do not occupy the same areas in the wild. The gardener can easily distinguish the more relaxed habit of S. glutinosa from the upright habit of S. nubicola. There are also differences in the leaves and flowers. The leaves of S. nubicola are thickish, whereas those of S. glutinosa are always thin. The lower lip of S. nubicola has a cleft in the center; on S. glutinosa, the lower lip is rounded.

Salvia koyamae

Salvia koyamae

A handsome, lax perennial from Japan, Salvia koyamae is rarely found in the wild on Honshu, its native habitat and Japan’s largest island, where it is called shinano-akigiri. However, the Japanese have grown and nurtured this treasure in their gardens. It was discovered and appreciated by American plantsmen visiting Japan and, subsequently, came into cultivation in the United States in the 1990s.

With reclining stems that may reach two feet (sixty centimeters) in length, Salvia koyamae appears to creep through beds and borders, forming a loose ground cover. Little more than one foot (thirty centimeters) in height, the stems are covered with cordate (heart-shaped) leaves with a lush appearance. The leaves are yellow green in color, lightly covered with hairs, and held on a petiole that is almost as long as the leaf itself. The inflorescence is often over one foot (thirty centimeters) long; during late summer and early autumn, plants reach their heaviest blooming period. I have counted as many as eight inflorescences in full flower on a single plant in mid-September. The nearest color of the flowers, using the Royal Horticulture Society’s Colour Chart, is Yellow Group 12C.

Easy to establish and grow, Salvia koyamae needs deep, rich soil along with excellent drainage. Positioned under high shade and given a generous supply of water, this salvia will gracefully climb through and between low-growing plants. Temperatures in the range of 25° F (-4° C) for short periods of time cause no problems if plants have good drainage. Some pruning of the plant is advisable in late autumn, but early spring, after all danger of frost has past, is the time to give the plant a thorough cleaning to prepare for the coming season’s growth. Propagation is by seed or cuttings taken in late summer.

The West Coast’s magical mediterranean climate allows the gardener many opportunities for reveling in the planning, planting, and enjoyment of high shade areas. These three salvias are not fussy and can be planted in the garden throughout spring or autumn. A cool spell of weather in August or September is my favorite time for planting, because roots grow well at that time of year, and plants will quickly become established.

A Different Kind of Illustration:
Using a Scanner to Create Flower Images


I used a scanner to make the illustrations for the accompanying article. A simple explanation of how I did that reads like this: Place the plant material on the scanner. Make a scan and save it on the computer. Touch up the scan using Photoshop. Print.

The reality is a little more complex. Although my first scanner was a simple desktop model, I now use a professional scanner that has a twelve- by seventeen-inch bed and, instead of a conventional lid, a transparency adapter. When I’m scanning, the transparency adapter illuminates the material from above, so the image I get is of a flower backlit by light shining through it. And, having a large scanning surface means I can scan most plants without having to cut them to fit.

Several paths led me to the method I currently use. I had been doing close-up flower photography and liked the way a shallow depth of field allowed me to highlight one part of the flower and blur the rest. I had also been experimenting with scanning. Several years ago, after seeing what a fellow photographer achieved by putting flowers directly on her scanner, I tried the same thing. But I wasn’t hooked until I bought a scanner that had a four- by five-inch transparency adapter and started scanning tiny flowers.

When I looked at the transparent flower images floating on a white background, and saw the veins and edges, I realized that I had the tools to create something similar to the work of the early botanical illustrators. The final hurdle was determining the best resolution for printing. Although I wanted the images to be realistic, I was looking for the softness of a watercolor rather than the sharp edges of a high-resolution photograph. So I print most of my images at 170 to 180 dpi (dots per inch).

Scanning has made me look more closely at flowers than I ever did before—and it has changed me from being a “fruit-and-vegetable farmer” to being a gardener. It’s also encouraged me to think about public aspects of the relatively private act of making art.

Scanning Your Own Flowers

A scanner, with or without a transparency adapter, is a wonderful tool for capturing flower images. You may want to make a record of your garden plants—or, like me, decide to create flower art.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Prop up the lid of the scanner so you don’t crush your flower.
  • To get a dark background, remove the lid entirely and scan in a dark room—or cover the flower with a dark paper.
  • Scan at a higher resolution than you think you’ll need for printing. Reducing the image size later is easy.

Here’s what I use:

  • Macintosh G4 computer,
  • Epson Expression 836XL scanner with transparency adapter,
  • Epson Stylus Photo 750 printer,
  • Epson Scan and Adobe Photoshop software.

Ask Mr. Sage: What Salvias Grow Well in Containers?

Dear Mr. Sage,
I want to grow Salvias and companion plants in containers. What kinds are good for potting?
Patio Gardener

Dear Patio Gardener,
The Salvia genus is huge. It contains about 900 species, many of which are excellent choices for container planting. For example, almost all the annual and tender perennial choices in our catalog are easy-to-grow choices for potting.

When reading a plant description in our online catalog, open its Cultural Icons tab above the photo. This leads you to a page detailing plant characteristics and optimum growing conditions. If the plant is a good choice for container gardening, you’ll see a potted plant icon in the section titled Garden Uses.

Just because a plant is short doesn’t necessarily mean that it grows well in a planter. Conversely, a number of our plants that are tall and wide in the ground adapt well to life in large planters.

For example, here is an unexpected yet handsome combo of short and tall plants: The purple flowered Caucasus Sage (Salvia canescens var. daghestanica) — 12 inches tall and wide in bloom — and Velvet Centaurea (Centaurea gymnocarpa), which has lavender, thistle-like flowers and is 60 inches tall and wide in bloom.

Although their bloom times don’t match up until fall, they both have silvery foliage that lends a glow to your patio on moonlit nights throughout the growing season.

Another cool colored combination involves Gentian Sages, which are popular container gardening choices. They seldom get bigger than Giant Gentian Sage (S. patens ‘De flores gigantes’), which is 48 inches tall and 24 inches wide in bloom. Put it together with the petite Dorset Lavender Gentian Sage (S. patens ‘Chilcombe’) for purple punch.

Keep in mind that the limitations of container growing may cause plants to achieve smaller sizes than they would in the ground.

When combining plants in pots, make sure that their cultural needs for sun exposure, water and soil are good matches and that at least part of their bloom season overlaps.

Another tip to remember is that even xeric plants such as Caucasus Sage and Velvet Centaurea need regular watering in containers. No matter how drought-resistant plants are, large ones are thirsty when grown in pots. Gravel mulch can help retain moisture.

Container gardening is an age-old solution for adding greenery to small spaces and areas where soil is dry and compacted. They add visual appeal to balconies, entryways and patios as well as amid flowerbeds.

So go for it. Look for the potted plant icon in our plant descriptions; compare cultural requirements; experiment with combinations and have fun. If you need any advice, please call us or send an email.

Thanks for your question,
Mr. Sage


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During the middle of the summer when my pots were all looking a bit dried out and very low on flowers I went to a friends house. On the steps next to her door there were perhaps 10 medium to large pots all a mass of colours, mostly blues and a wide range of pinks. I was amazed, most gardens were in that mid-summer period where spring flowers have all finished and the autumn bloom of asters, heleniums and rudbeckia had not yet started. Yet her pots, and the same plants scattered throughout the garden, were a riot of colour. The plants in question were salvias.

I immediately went out and bought some salvias to put in my pots. The salvias I am talking about are the small leaved, perennial salvias which are frost tolerant. (Though in my garden I use the culinary sage often for its quick growing habits and beautiful sage green leaves, plus the purple leaved and variagated varieties).

I have started my collection with Salvia lemmonnii, a lovely deep pink and Salvia sinaloensis, a lovely blue flower with purple leaves. I bought these as small plants being sold cheap in the garden section of large supermarkets and now whenever I see a new colour I buy it. Despite having bought small plants in mid summer they are already getting to be a good size, and still flowering as I write this in December.

Salvia growing guide

Salvias are part of the Lamiaceae family. They are a large group which include annuals, biennials, perennials and shrubs. Apart from those with a medicinal and culinary use the main reason for growing them are their beautiful spikes of flowers. With many shades of pink but also blue, red, white, orange and yellow there is a salvia for every colour scheme. They also have a tendancy to flower from early summer until the first frosts.

One of their benefits for growing them here in SW France is that they tolerate dry soil and relish a sunny spot. They are very easy to care for. Those with a straggly growing habit benefit from an occasional trim which in turn results in more flowers. The flowers make very good cut flowers too.

Planting is really the same as for any other plant, dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball, plant so that the top of the root ball is level with the surface and put back in the garden soil mixed with some compost. After planting water well. The only difference with planting other plants is that being a fan of dry soil and sun I tend to plant in spring rather than autumn/winter which is usually the best planting time.

As with all my plants I mulch in the spring to retain water during the summer. After they have been hit by the frosts cut the stems hard back (not all salvias are hit by the frosts and those that aren’t, like the culinary sage, will remain looking pretty good right through winter and do not need any particular attention).

I am not a fan of annuals and biennials on the whole but it is worth buying Salvia sclari once because after that it seeds like mad and you will always have its pale pink flower spikes in your garden. These flowers almost look more like bracts but are still very attractive.

Propogating is very simple, just stick a growing tip in the ground and chances are it will grow. Whenever I or my cat accidentally break off a stem of salvia I pop it in a pot and usually this results in a new plant.

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