Members of the sage family are known worldwide as excellent herbs and beautiful garden plants. Salvia chamelaeagnea, which grows wild in the south western Cape, is no exception. Flowering bright blue during the long hot summers, these plants are easy to find in the dry landscape where they grow along seepage areas, riverbeds and in sandy soil among rocks. Salvia chamelaeagnea is well adapted to survive fires, which regularly sweep though the fynbos vegetation, by resprouting from its woody rootstock.
The flowers are formed in whorls along the top third of the stems, any time between November and May. Individual plants flower for a month or two. The flowers are on small side branches; opening from the bottom upwards towards the tips of the stems. The large calyx is usually an attractive reddish-purple colour. It is covered with small hairs and is also dotted with glands. The corolla, which we usually call the flower, varies in colour from blue, mauve, pink to pure white. Flowers with a dark blue top lip and white lower lip are the most common.
The 2-lipped flower has adapted a very interesting shape for pollination. The bottom lip forms a platform for insects, such as bees, to alight upon while collecting nectar. The anthers and stigma, protected by the hooded top lip of the flower, protrude just enough for the hinged anthers to move down to deposit their pollen and the curved stigma to collect pollen from the back of a visiting bee.
Salvia chamelaeagnea is an evergreen shrub that is easy to grow, flowering in a range of colours through summer. With its upright growth and fresh green foliage it also provides texture contrast in a planting. For best results, these plants require full sun, well-drained, good garden soil and regular water, especially in winter.
In southern Africa 22 Salvia species occur naturally, with most of them distributed through the south western Cape. Between 800 and 900 species of Salvia are found in the temperate and tropical regions of the world.