Last Updated: October 5, 2023

a hummingbird sage plant growing in a garden

The hummingbird sage colony showing its early spring color

This year’s seemingly unstoppable atmospheric river hammered a lot of plants here at the Acre. But it’s also given some of the natives and impressive boost.

One of the natives currently growing like gangbusters is Salvia spathacea, or hummingbird sage. It’s a low growing, large-leafed sage that does well under the native oaks. The oaks here are kind of mean and secrete an oil that prevents most other plants from growing under them.

Most of the other native sages are upright shrubs that grow several feet tall. Hummingbird sage on the other hand is a low creeper that prefers to expand by root instead of seed. A slow grower, it’s taken about four years to colonize a 20 foot by 20 foot area. It now provides a nice pink and green contrast to the tall blue flowers of the black and Cleveland sages nearby.

Being natives, they flower in the winter / early spring and survive just fine without water in the summer. But, if you do give them regular water in the summer, they’ll keep their leaves and continue to grow instead of going dormant.

Reestablishing a Native Colony

When I was a kid growing up in Southern Orange County colonies of these sages grew along the creeks and valleys, turning the brown-green landscape temporarily pink in the spring.

Hummingbird sage flower

Hummingbird sage’s spiky pink flower

Then they bulldozed everything to create a miles of mass-produced tract homes. The oaks were cut down, and what remained of those creeks and valleys were overrun by invasive non-native plants.

By the time I came graduated college and returned to Southern California, these cool little plants were totally wiped out in the area.

When I moved down to San Diego County a few years later, I was pleasantly surprised to see them growing along the slopes of the Santa Margarita River, which is a habitat preserve courtesy of the United States Marine Corps.

I wasn’t aware Hummingbird Sage grew this far south as rainfall here is considerably less than it is an hour to the north. But, it turns out they do, so I have taken it upon myself to try and expand the native colonies.

I don’t much luck growing these from seed, but they’re easy enough to divide and transplant. They do grow very slowly, but I hope to have several colonies well-enough established that they take off and recover a lot of the habitat the lost to human encroachment.

Salvia Spathacea Plant Details

Plant Details
Common Name Hummingbird Sage, Pitcher Sage
Botanical Name Salvia spathacea
Plant Family Lamiaceae
Native to North America
Plant Type Evergreen perennial
Mature Size 1-2 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full shade to full sun
Soil Type Any (not picky)
Soil pH Any (not picky)
Water Low. Needs more when young
Bloom Time Spring-Summer
Flower Color Rose Pink to Fuschia
Hardiness Zones 8-10 (USDA)

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