A few years ago, I purchased a Salvia apiana, or white sage, at one of the Sacramento River Discovery Center’s plant sales. I knew it was a California native plant, and pretty drought resistant which were a couple of qualities I was interested for planting on a new hot, dry bank along our driveway. This salvia is in the Lamiaceae family. It is native to Mexico, southwestern US, and California.
I have many salvias in my yard, but nothing similar to Salvia apiana. Probably its most distinctive characteristic is the towering size and bold statement it makes along the driveway. It is an evergreen perennial, with lovely soft silver green fuzzy leaves. The plant is easily 5 or more feet tall and wide. When the flower stalks bloom, they are an additional 3 or 4 feet tall with hundreds of small white to pale lavender flowers!
Many pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, ants, and birds frequent the blooms. Bees especially like it so much it is sometimes commonly called bee sage. The plant is highly aromatic, which may bother some people.
Salvia apiana can be found growing in the southern coast ranges here in California, along dry slopes and foothills. In a garden setting, one should try to create a similar environment to encourage healthy growth. So, use an area where the soil will drain well, and gets full sun. It is a good plant for stabilizing a hillside if you need that. Once this sage is established, it will require little water. If you have a deer problem, white sage is deer resistant.
One of its interesting characteristics are the fuzzy leaves which are covered with small hairs. When they are rubbed, oils and resins are released that produce a strong aroma. Native Americans used sage for smudging and for some medicinal purposes. Some people think the smudging, or burning of the sage leaves which are rolled into a bundle, can clear our spiritual impurities. Smudging releases negative ions, and helps neutralize positive ions which can improve air quality.
Salvia apiana is considered a California Endangered Species, so don’t go out and try to harvest white sage on someone else’s property. But if you grow some yourself, it is fun to give smudging a try. If you decide to try this, remember and respect the cultural importance of this smudging ritual for many people.
Our garden club will not be meeting again until August 30. Enjoy your gardens, and watch this space for our weekly articles as well as other updates about what’s going on!
Red Bluff Garden Club, Inc. is a member of Cascade District, California Garden Clubs, Inc., Pacific Region Garden Clubs, Inc., and National Garden Clubs, Inc.