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Golden currant ( Ribes aureum ): one of our tastier native berries   A number of native berry fruits come ripe in summer.   Many ha...

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Marine Blue Butterflies (Leptotes marina)

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina)

One of the more enjoyable aspects of gardening is watching the birds and animals that visit/live in your garden.  Butterflies are among the more popular visitors, and most gardens attract a few species.  But a garden filled with nectar-rich flowers and larval host plants can be alive with many species by mid-summer.  To learn more about butterfly gardening see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/06/butterfly-gardens.html

Among the common butterflies visiting native ‘butterfly plants’ are the small species known as the Blue Butterflies.  There are many species of ‘Blues’ throughout the world.  They all are classed as Gossamer-winged Butterflies (Family Lycaenidae), a large group that includes around 40% of all butterfly species (over 5000 species in the Family). Some of the common types of butterflies in this family are the Blue, Copper, Azure and Hairstreak butterflies.  We introduced another Gossamer-wing, the Gray Hairstreak, last month: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2018/07/gray-hairstreak-butterfly-strymon.html

The Gossamer-winged butterflies are mostly small.  They have delicate wings that appear to shine with color.  In the case of the Blue Butterflies, the predominant color of the upper-side of the wings is a shimmery blue that varies with the light.  Gossamer-wings live in a wide range of habitats from deserts to tropical rain forests and wetlands.  And some are common visitors to home gardens.

The Blue Butterflies belong the sub-family Polyommatinae (the Blue Butterflies).  This sub-family has traditionally been a sort of catch-all for species of similar appearance.  So it’s difficult to tell how many species it actually contains (molecular taxonomy will one day sort this out).  Southern California genera currently included in the Polyommatinae are: Brephidium (Pygmy Blues), Celastrina (Azures), Euphilotes, Glaucopsyche, Hemiargus, Leptotes, Philotes, and Plebejus. 

The most widely known (and the rarest) of the local Blue Butterflies are the Palos Verdes and El Segundo Blues (Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis and Euphilotes battoides allyni, respectively).  These two species have very limited geographic ranges (in Western Los Angeles County) and larval food sources.  Efforts to bring these two species back from the brink of extinction have been widely publicized.  Their story has become part of the restoration ecology lore.

Mesquite (Prosopis species): larval food for
 Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina)

The Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) is a far more common butterfly in S. California.  Its range extends from California and Arizona east to Texas and south to Central  America. [1]  It’s a fairly common small butterfly in S. California, living in Mesquite and Coastal Sage scrub, city gardens and agricultural areas where alfalfa is grown. In the Sonoran Desert, it’s commonly seen along riparian corridors, which contain mesquites or other plants in the bean family.  Because its larval foods are common, gardeners in S. California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Colorado or Texas may see this butterfly in their home gardens.  Individuals occasionally stray further north, but they apparently don’t over-winter.

The species was named by Tryon Reakirt (1844 – ?) in 1868. Reakirt was a businessman but was really a lepidopterist at heart. [2]   He joined the Entomological Society of Philadelphia at the age of 19 and became an accomplished taxonomist.  Reakirt's Blue butterfly also honors Tryon Reakirt. 

Reakirt was particularly interested in butterflies of the tropics and the American Rockies, publishing nine articles in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Philadelphia. He apparently was not a field collector and never visited the American Southwest. Ultimately, his business dealings failed (there were hints of corruption), and Reakirt fled to Peru in 1871.  For more on the little that’s known about this talented lepidopterist see reference 2, below.

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina) is small

Like all the Blues, the Marine Blue is a rather small butterfly, with a wingspan ranging from 7/8 to 1 1/8 inches (2.2 - 2.9 cm). [3]  It flies with a rapid, erratic flight pattern, landing to feed or search for mates.   When perched, the wings are usually closed, making it difficult to see (or photograph) the upper wing surface.  The upper surface is an iridescent blue-purple with a hint of brown.  The males have pale brown and white markings on the upper wing surface; females are all blue-purple.  For good photos, see references 3 & 4, below.

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina): underside

The undersurface is often the best distinguishing characteristic between the different Blues.  In the case of the Marine Blue, the underside has distinctive, wavy, tan and white bands that are reminiscent of ocean waves coming in to shore.  I’m not sure why the Marine Blue is called ‘Marine’, but suspect it’s because of the ‘waves’.  The underside also has a line of tan and white circles on the wing margins, and two larger, darker spots on the lower dorsal wing (see above).

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina): nectaring on
Dune Buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium)

Adults nectar on whatever small flowers are blooming.  In our gardens, we most often see them on the native Buckwheats or plants in the Sunflower family.  They are also commonly seen around their larval food plants – the legumes (members of the Pea Family – Fagaceae).  So you may see them near the peas in your vegetable garden as well.  Common larval foods in S. California include the native Milkvetches (Astragalus species), Amorpha californica and fruticosa, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, native Lathyrus (wild pea) and Lotus species, and the non-native Wisterias, Plumbagos, Acacias, alfalfa and garden peas. In the desert, common host plants are the tree and shrubby legumes, including Mesquites (Prosopis species), Acacia greggii, Dalea purpurea and Lysiloma thornberi.

Amorpha fruticosa: larval food source for
 Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina)
Females lay their eggs on the flower buds of host plants. The eggs and young larvae are small and well camouflaged; you’ll have to really look for them. The larvae eat mainly the flowers and the seedpods.  For good photos of eggs, larval stages [4, 5].  For good advice on raising this butterfly see reference 5, below.


Marine Blues can be seen year-round in S. California and other warm places.  We see them most often in summer and fall in Mother Nature’s Backyard.  They are fun to observe and add to the interest of a garden.  But what role do they play in the garden ecosystem – and why should we be interested in attracting them?

All butterflies and their larvae provide protein for birds, wasps and other insect-eating species.  So Marine Blues certainly function as prey.  But do they also play a role as pollinators, particularly of the small-flowered species they seem to prefer? In fact, the answer has yet to be discovered.

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina): note how hairy this species is.

Butterflies are thought to be minor pollinators for most plants.  Perhaps that’s why relatively little research has been done, except in the case of a few flowering plants.  But a good look at the smaller butterflies, like the Gossamer Wings and Skippers, makes us wonder.  These butterflies have relatively short legs (for butterflies), visit many flowers, and can be seen in large (aggregate) numbers, particularly in areas of the arid Southwest.  These butterflies are also conspicuously hairy, particularly on the underbody and around the face.  All these factors make us wonder if they are more important alternate pollinators than is often thought.

Good studies of pollinator activity are difficult to carry out.  They require time, patience, hard fieldwork and observation.  Probably the best studies document that pollen is actually carried by a pollinator.  Such studies require extreme magnification – at the level of the electron microscope.   As far as we can determine, few studies have focused on the Blues as pollinators.  We hope that some up-and-coming Southwestern lepidopterist will seize the opportunity, enlightening us on the role of the Blue butterflies as pollinators.  That would make a fantastic doctoral dissertation!

The Blue Butterflies also remind us that specialization – whether in nature, agriculture or business – carries with it a substantial risk.  The highly specialized El Segundo and Palos Verdes Blue Butterflies, with their limited larval food sources, are extremely vulnerable to habitat loss.  The more generalist Marine Blues, with their ability to utilize a range of native and non-native legumes, have lots more options.  The Marine Blue serves to remind us that flexibility can be a reasonable survival strategy in times of rapid change – like now.   

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina):
Madrona Marsh Preserve, Torrance CA

See our other insect postings for more on common insect visitors to S. California gardens: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/07/insect-postings-mother-natures-backyard.html






We encourage your comments below.   If you have questions about butterflies or other gardening topics you can e-mail us at :  mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

Monday, August 13, 2018

Garden Hours are Changing - See Calendar for Updated Schedule

The hours our garden is open are in a state of change.  Visit our Calendar for updated dates and times the garden will be open.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Plant of the Month (August) : Island alumroot – Heuchera maxima

Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima)
Sitting in the shade on a hot summer’s day allows us to really experience our native shade-loving species.  Many are pretty and have unusual foliage, adding to their allure.  One plant that’s been a shade garden staple for many years is the Island alumroot, Heuchera maxima.  The scientific name is most commonly pronounced HER (or HOY)-ker-uh  MAX-im-uh.

The Heucheras are an interesting group of herbaceous perennials in the Saxifrage Family (the Saxifragaceae).  Members of this family generally grow in moist shady places; they are often used similarly in gardens.  Among the California saxifrages are the Boykinias, Heucheras, Jepsonias, Lithophragmas, Micranthas, Suksdorfias, Tellimas and Tolmieas. Of these, the genus with the most species is Heuchera.

The Saxifrages share a number of common features.  Most have rounded or heart-shaped leaves that grow in a mound at the base of the plant (a basal rosette). Most are perennials, dying back to a stout root in winter.  The flowers grow in stalks above the leaves.  Some have medicinal properties, and have been so used.  And most grow in forests or riparian areas, often in shade.

Thirteen species of Heuchera are native to California.  They belong to three groups: those that are primarily coastal, those from far northern California, and those from the mountains (including the Transverse and Laguna Ranges of S. California).  Many Heuchera species have very limited ranges, and several are listed as endangered.   We featured the Seaside alumroot in May: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2018/05/plant-of-month-may-seaside-alumroot.html

Heuchera maxima is one of the coastal species.  It’s native to the Northern Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara. In the wilds, it grows in moist, shady, north-facing sites, often in canyons or on ocean cliffs.  Island alumroot is a member of the chaparral plant community; it always grows at elevations less than 1500 ft. (500 m.) in nature. Fortunately, it’s available to California gardeners and widely used in gardens in warmer climates (USDA Zones 8-10).

Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): foliage
All the Heucheras have pretty, rounded leaves and Heuchera maxima is no exception. Its leaves are slightly succulent, lobed, with scalloped edges.  The leaf color is green, but may be mottled or two-tone.  The entire plant is slightly hairy.   Leaves have long petioles and are tightly clumped in a basal rosette.  With a little water, the entire plant appears neat and tidy much of the year.

Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): plant
Heuchera maxima begins to bloom in spring and can bloom off-and-on through summer with a little water. The blooms of Island alumroot are small, bell-shaped flowers on slender, upright flowering stems.  The flowers of this species are white to pale pink and are clustered at the tips of side branches on the stem.  The flowers are less densely packed than those of the Seaside alumroot.
Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): close-up of flowers
Several well-known, named Heuchera hybrids share the foliage characteristics of Heuchera maxima and the brighter flowers of the Arizona native Heuchera sanguinea. Hybrids between H. maxima and H. sanguinea range in color from white/pale pink to bright pink or magenta, and are very showy.  Hybrid cultivars include 'Genevieve' (rose-magenta), 'Opal' (white), 'Santa Ana Cardinal' (large red), 'Susanna' (red), and 'Wendy' (pink), all developed at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont CA.  We feature ‘Wendy’ in Mother Nature’s Garden of Health.

Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): hybrid cultivar 'Wendy'
The Heucheras are loved for their ability to tolerate (even need) a shady location.  In nature, this species grows primarily in moist, shady canyons. In the garden it does best with afternoon shade, under trees or on the north side of walls or buildings.  We’ve grown it in clay soils; it can succeed in all but the poorest-draining soils.  It looks good with a yearly application of a light (1/2 strength) fertilizer, particularly in sandy soils.

In dry climates like S. California, Heuchera maxima needs regular irrigation for the first year, until the plant is established.  Then water two to four times a month for best appearance. Plants are actually quite drought tolerant (much more so than the eastern Heucheras) – but they need a little water to look good. We water our alumroots every two weeks from June to August in our clay-loam soils.  Then we taper off water in September.   To conserve water, we recommend using a 1-inch thick organic mulch around Heucheras.  Keep the area under the plants mulch-free to discourage fungal infections of the stems and leaves.

Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): seed capsules

Heucheras don’t need much in the way of maintenance.  Cut off spent flower stalks for tidiness and to promote a longer bloom season.  Remove old, dead leaves in the fall. If you’ve planted several plants, you may be able to collect seeds from the dry capsules and start some new plants.  And divide plants as needed, usually every 4-5 years. When plants become crowded and blooming decreases, then it’s time to divide.  Division is best done in early spring.

So, why plant Heuchera maxima and its cultivars?   First, these are charming, old-fashioned perennials, with a long history of use in gardens.  Most people have no idea they are California native plants; they look that ‘garden-like’.   Their tidy appearance and low maintenance make them a good choice for many gardens – including front yards.  They look equally appropriate in both traditional and contemporary garden designs.

Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): Ranch Santa Ana
 Botanic Garden, Claremont CA

Heucheras are the perfect solution for shady parts of the garden. They provide a natural, woodsy element favored by many gardeners.  They can be used as a ground cover (above) or to border shady pathways or flower beds.  With limited water, they can even be used under native oaks.  

Heuchera’s small size makes them a good choice for narrow planting areas.  Heucheras can even be grown in deep containers (they have a tap root) on a shady patio. They are favorites of hummingbirds.  Plant some near a garden bench; you’ll be rewarded by steady visits from these jewels of the air.   The flower stalks also make a pretty addition to floral arrangements.   
Island alumroot (Heuchera maxima): good hummingbird plants

Finally, Heucheras are known for their medicinal properties.  The leaves and stems – but particularly the roots – produce chemicals that are strongly astringent and possibly anti-microbial.  In traditional medicine, a poultice or extract of the roots was applied to skin wounds and sores to stop the bleeding and reduce swelling.  An extract of the root was used as a gargle for mouth sores and sore throats.   Note: this plant has strong medicinal properties and should not be taken internally.  

In summary, Heuchera maxima is treasured by western gardeners for its attractive foliage, pretty flowers and shade-loving nature.  It’s hard to find an easier-to-grow plant that looks as good as the Island alumroot and its cultivars.  And if you’re creating a Channel Island themed garden, you’ll want to include this species in your collection.  We hope you’ll consider adding this versatile plant to your own garden this winter. 

Heuchera 'Wendy' : Mother Nature's Garden of Health

For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/heuchera-maxima

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html



We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

Friday, July 13, 2018

Gray Hairstreak butterfly – Strymon melinus

Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus): perched on Ashyleaf buckwheat.

July is a great month for butterflies, with many species at their peak numbers. Gardeners who have chosen plants to attract butterflies are justly rewarded this month.  Due to our continuing Western drought, gardens are becoming ever more important for beneficial insects (like butterflies).  To learn more about gardening for butterflies see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/06/butterfly-gardens.html

Among the first butterflies noticed by many gardeners are the big, showy species like the Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries and Swallowtails.  But equally interesting – and important to the garden ecosystem – are the smaller butterflies.  One of our favorites is the Gray Hairstreak - Strymon melinus. 

The Gray Hairstreak is a common species in most parts of the continental U.S. and south to Venezuela. It’s the most common Hairstreak seen in many gardens; you may have noticed it in your own garden, particularly if you grow flowering plants.  Strymon melinus is one of our smaller butterflies, with a wingspan of 7/8 - 1 3/8 inches (2.2 - 3.5 cm).  Like the Swallowtails, the Gray Hairstreak has a single ‘tail’ on the hindwing.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus):
feeding on Ashyleaf buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum)
When perched or feeding, a Hairstreak’s wings are usually closed, making the underside of the wing more commonly visible.  The underside is mostly gray, with spring and fall flying adults a darker gray than those of summer.  On close observation, the wings have a thin, pale fringe and thin rather straight black and white band near the edges of both the fore (front) and dorsal wings.  More conspicuous is a darker, more irregular band of blotches that are white, black and orange (see below).  Gray Hairstreaks also have two large orange and black splotches on the hindwing.
Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus):
close-up of underside of wings
The Gray Hairstreaks we’ve seen have dark eyes and light-and-dark banded antennae with an orange tip.  The heads often have a patch of orange on the back of the head.  The abdomen of females may have a red or orange tinge.  The upper-side is blue-gray with a large orange-red spot near the ‘tail’.  For more good photographs see refs. 1-5, below.

The larvae (caterpillars) have the typical form of Hairstreak larvae.  They are rather flattened, with distinct segments and a slightly tapering abdomen.    Color can range from almost gray through tan, green and even rosy pink or purple.  Earlier chrysalids hatch 7-10 days after pupating (forming a cocoon); fall ones hibernate over winter.     Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos of the larvae or chrysalids.  For excellent photographs – plus advice on raising Strymon melinus – see reference 6.

Gray Hairstreaks can be seen much of the year in warm climates.  They have two flights (sets of hatchlings) per year in colder climates and at higher elevations (May to September).  They often have 3-4 flights (February-November) in warm climates like the lower elevations of S. California.  Males can be seen perched on warm afternoons, waiting for receptive females.   Eggs are laid on the flowers of a variety of host plants – most often in the Pea (Fabaceae) or Mallow (Malvaceae) families.  The young larvae eat mostly flowers and fruits; later stages may eat leaves as well.  In agricultural areas, this species may become a minor pest on bean and cotton crops. [5]

Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus):
 on Eriogonum parvifolium
In our gardens, we most often see males perched on upright stems or leaves - or individuals feeding on a wide range of flowers.  Perched individuals often rub their wings together – a behavior commonly seen in Blues, Coppers and Hairstreak butterflies.  The reason for this behavior is unknown; it may be a defensive mechanism, drawing attention to the abdomen rather than the head.  But whatever the purpose, it’s an interesting behavior to observe.
Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus): nectaring on
 Ashyleaf buckwheat. Note long, thin proboscis.
Gray Hairstreaks inhabit a wide range of sites, in large part due to their relatively unspecific food requirements.  Adults obtain nectar from many plant species.  In our gardens, the most popular seem to be the native Buckwheats (Eriogonum species), the Mints (including Salvias), the many-flowered Sunflowers (Goldenrods,  Goldenbushes and Telegraph plant), Milkweeds and clovers.  We’ve also seen them on Globe Gilia (below) and they are known to frequent other native and non-native garden flowers.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus):
 on Globe gilia (Gilia capitata), Mother nature's Backyard.
The larvae are also less selective in their food requirements than many native butterflies.  The host plants are mostly herbaceous annuals and perennials, commonly in the Pea or Mallow families.  Recorded local host species include garden beans (Phaseolus), native Lotus species, clovers (Trifolium species), Amorpha (false indigo), mallows (including hibiscus), Humulus (hops), Polygonum species, Eriogonum (Buckwheats), Salvia (Sage) species and cotton.  There likely are other host plants, yet to be discovered.  Grow any of these to provide an incentive for Gray Hairstreaks to live in your garden.

So what role do Gray Hairstreaks play in the open woodlands, prairies, parks and gardens in which they reside?  First, they act as minor pollinators for the flowering plants they visit.  They are not the most important – that role goes to bees and pollinator flies. But they do their part by increasing the diversity of pollinator species, helping to insure the livelihoods of insect pollinated plants.  In addition, the larvae of all butterflies and moths are an important source of protein for birds and even some insects. 

Gray Hairstreaks also contribute to the beauty and interest of local gardens.  They are fun to watch and observation can be done close to home.  You may want to record your observations – and send your photos to iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/). You may even discover a new host plant for Strymon melinus – right in your own backyard!





We encourage your comments below.   If you have questions about garden butterflies or other gardening topics you can e-mail us at :  mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Plant of the Month (July) : Cleveland Sage – Salvia clevelandii

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): Mother Nature's Backyard garden

Most of our native Salvias are spring bloomers.  Excluding a few blossoms on the Purple sage (Salvia leucophylla), most are done for the year – at least in our water-wise gardens.  The exception is our Plant of the Month - the Cleveland sage, Salvia clevelandii.  This species adds a welcome touch of blue-purple among the summer pink buckwheats dominating our summer gardens.  Its scientific name is pronounced SAL-vee-uh  cleve-LAND-ee-eye.

Like all Salvias, Salvia clevelandii belongs to the Mint family, known for square stems and aromatic foliage. In fact, another common name for Salvia clevelandii is ‘Fragrant Sage’. Seventeen Salvia species are native to California. [1]  Many are common, while a few are quite rare.  We grow seven of the common S. California species (Salvia apiana; S. clevelandii; S. dorii; S. leucophylla; S. mellifera; S. munzii; S. spathacea) in Mother Nature’s Backyard and Garden of Health.   They are key species in our gardens, providing color, scent, habitat and a source of cuttings for seasonings and potpourri.

Cleveland sage is named for Daniel Cleveland, an early collector of the species. Cleveland (1838-1929), was an authority on ferns, a lawyer and botanical collector in the San Diego area.  He was one of the founding members of the San Diego Natural History Society and started the herbarium of the San Diego Natural History Museum.  A number of native plants are named in his honor. [2]   Cleveland sage was also collected in the 1800’s by the Parish brothers and Leroy Abrams.  For more stories on early S. California plant collectors see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2018/05/californias-fascinating-native-plants.html.

Cleveland sage grows in the chaparral and coastal sage scrub, primarily in Riverside and San Diego counties, south into Baja California, Mexico.   It grows on dry slopes and common plant associates include the Canyon silktassel (Garrya veatchii), Coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis), Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina), California encelia and Chaparral mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus).

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): plant growth form

Salvia clevelandii is a part-woody sub-shrub, growing 2-5+ ft. (0.5-1.5 m.) tall and about as wide.  Its form may be rounded or sprawling; we suspect the form is influenced by the amount of pruning, as well as light. Cleveland sage is the most evergreen of our local Salvias; while most have switched to their small, dry summer leaves, Cleveland sage remains pleasantly evergreen through most of the summer. 

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): foliage

The leaves are small (to about 1.25 inches; 3 cm.), pronouncedly veined and wrinkled. The aroma of the leaves is heavenly; the sweetly fresh scent is prized by many gardeners.  The new stems are often tinged with red or purple.   The entire plant is more delicate appearing than most of our other local Salvias.  The refined appearance is another reason this species is widely used in gardens.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): flowers

Cleveland sage blooms for about a month, in late spring/early summer.  In our gardens it can start as early as April, but more commonly blooms from June into July.  The flowers of this species are a more vivid blue-purple than any of the other Salvias we grow.  They’re an ‘electric blue’ – photographs don’t do the flower color justice!   The tiny, mint-shaped flowers grow in ball-like clusters around the stems.   The individual flowers extend from the darker colored bracts, producing a particularly  attractive appearance.  A mature plant will be covered in floral clusters.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): flowering plant

The flowers attract hummingbirds (they may fight over the flowers), butterflies and other pollinators.   Seed-eating birds like the Goldfinches pluck seeds from the stems in late summer and fall.  And the shrubby habit makes great shelter for ground-dwelling birds and lizards.   So Cleveland sage makes a good all-round habitat shrub.

Cleveland sage prefers a light to medium, well-drained soil with pH from 6.0 to 8.5.  It’s doing fine in clay-loams and clays in Gardena and Carson gardens.  It does best in either full sun or with some afternoon shade (hot, inland gardens – even Phoenix, AZ).   In all gardens, Cleveland sage is fine with a moderate layer of organic mulch.

In much of S. California, Salvia clevelandii looks best with occasional summer water – perhaps several waterings a summer.  It grows in areas prone to summer monsoons – look to the weather reports from the San Diego foothills for a clue for when to water.   In hot desert gardens, and in very sandy soils, deep weekly irrigation will keep it looking good. [3]

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): pruned plant

Like most native Salvias, Cleveland sage looks best with regular late fall pruning. Pruning should begin the first fall, even though the plant will be small.  Each branch should be pruned back, leaving 3-4 branching nodes.  Don’t cut back into the older, non-budding wood, which cannot re-sprout.  Fall pruning – similar to browsing of deer in the wilds – promotes a dense, rounded shape.   Deadheading the flowers, if desired, may promote a second round of blooming.

'Winnifred Gilman' sage (Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman')

Cleveland sage is widely planted in Southwestern gardens, often alongside other Salvias.  So it’s not surprising that a number of attractive hybrids and other cultivars have resulted.   Some of these appear to be all (or mostly) true Salvia clevelandii types, though they may be found to have other salvia genes. The most common and popular in our area is S. clevelandii  ‘Winnifred Gilman’, a nicely shaped cultivar with loads of intensely blue flowers.  The other ‘true’ Cleveland sage cultivar is S. clevelandii  ‘Betsy Clebsch’ (recommended for desert gardeners).

Cleveland sage cultivar (Salvia clevelandii x S. leucophylla)

There are several good hybrid cultivars that share the good features of Salvia clevelandii.   The most common are the Salvia clevelandii x S. leucophylla hybrids, including ‘Allen Chickering’, ‘Ponzo Blue’ and ‘Whirly Blue’.  These cultivars have slightly lighter purple flowers, with more flower clusters per stalk (see above).  Like Purple sage,   they are very drought tolerant and may be longer lived than straight Cleveland Sage.

Salvia ‘Vicki Romo’ is an interesting hybrid between Salvia clevelandii and S. apiana (White sage).   This plant is smaller than White sage, has more gray-green leaves than Cleveland sage, and is also very drought tolerant. ‘Celestial Blue’ (Salvia clevelandii x pachyphylla x ?leucophylla) features the blue-and-magenta flowers of Salvia pachyphylla and gray-green foliage.  Other (likely complex) hybrids include ‘Aromas’ (looks like Purple sage but with strong aroma) and Salvia ‘Carl Nielson’ (possibly Salvia clevelandii × mohavensis), a smaller cultivar that does well with monthly water in desert gardens. [4]

Cleveland sage hybrid cultivar: Garden of Dreams
 Discovery Garden, CSU Dominguez Hills

Whether you choose the straight species or a cultivar, Cleveland sage is a delight for the garden designer.  Because the growth habit, foliage and flower color, bloom season, size and fragrance are quite different among the cultivars, we recommend seeing a plant in person before purchasing.
Whichever you choose, Cleveland sage adds a splash of blue-purple to the late spring and early summer garden.  It contrasts beautifully with the creamy pastels of the native buckwheat flowers or the yellows of the summer sunflowers.  It is also dramatic when massed.   In the San Diego area it can be used to naturalize large gardens.   It can be used as a foundation plant, at the back of water-wise flower beds or as an accent plant.   While short-lived in some gardens, Cleveland sage is worth replanting every 5 years or so, if necessary.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): contrasts with
 Giant buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum)

An aroma garden would not be complete without Cleveland Sage; it smells like no other sage and is delightful beside a seating area in summer.  The flowers – even the dried stems – make great cut flowers.  The leaves can also be dried for use as a flavoring, incense or potpourri.  The scent lasts for at least 6-8 months after drying.  Place a sachet of dried Cleveland sage in a clothing drawer for a reminder of summer.  Or use the dried leaves to create a refreshing bath or shower.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): young plant,
 Mother Nature's Backyard, Gardena CA


In summary, Cleveland sage is beloved by gardeners for its graceful shape, bright flowers and wonderful aroma.  It is a native habitat plant, with many practical uses. So search out Salvia clevelandii (or its cultivars) next time you visit a native plant garden or nursery.  You may be convinced to find a place for it in your own garden.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont CA

For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/salvia-clevelandii

For information on other native Salvias:

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html


  1. http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?where-genus=Salvia
  2. http://www.calflora.net/bloomingplants/clevelandsage.html
  3. http://www.public.asu.edu/~camartin/plants/Plant%20html%20files/salviaclevelandii.html
  4. https://www.desertmuseum.org/visit/sheets/Salcarnie.pdf




We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com