Updated: Oct 5
An intriguing sage unlike any other I am used to growing, Salvia reptans offers a unique texture in the garden. Unfortunately, it is one of the most difficult plants to photograph, in part due to its fine texture...both plant and leaves practically disappear in the lens, and despite clear, cobalt blooms, it entirely recedes into the landscape.
Online photos depict much more dense foliage, so it may be my specimen is challenged by drought, losing leaves it might otherwise retain. Regardless, it perseveres blooms sufficiently to be enjoyed by the local pollinators. Hopefully, this winter will cut us a break from the drought, and I can observe if more moisture will alter its appearance.
West Texas sage, as it is commonly called, thrives in gravely soils and reaches about three feet high and wide, which was pleasantly unexpected. My initial research made a distinction between what is available in nurseries versus what grows naturally in its native dry streambeds. Those early observations by noted amateur botanist, Betsy Clebsch, discussed a "lax" ground cover form versus the "decumbent" form I have in my garden (pp. 154-155). Online references frequently quote her observations. Since her research, the "natural" form appears to have made it into the nursery trade.
If I had room, I would intermix R. reptans with ornamental grasses or even Gaura lindheimeri, allowing them to flow into one another. The only way I see this fine-textured plant really showing off its unique qualities is to plant in mass set against a clean and simple background, highlighting the cobalt blue blooms. Bay Area designers should note it will die back to the ground and is slow to recover in spring. Just when I thought it had completely died it reemerges, and this year was its best performance yet. I will include photos from Creative Commons to help viewers see its potential.
Botanical Name: Salvia reptans
Salvia: General Latin name for sage; originally referencing Saliva officinalis
Reptans: Having a creeping habit
Common Name: West Texas sage; slenderleaf sage
Family Name: Lamiaceae
Origin: Texas, Mexico, Guatemala
Garden Themes: Pollinator, hummingbird, cottage, Mediterranean/dry, desert, perennial, prairie, children's, rock, container, courtyard/patio
Uses: Mass, border, specimen, accent, slope/erosion control
Type: Herbaceous perennial with woody base
Form: Upright, open, round
Size: 3' tall and wide
Outstanding Feature(s): Texter, flower
Stem: Quadrangular, pubescent
Arrangement: Opposite with sessile attachment
Margin: Entire to serrate
Color: Light green to yellow-green
Flower: Summer to Autumn. Small but showy, loose clusters of tubular, cobalt blue blooms, usually in pairs along stem leading to stem terminus.
Fruit: Autumn. Four segments with one seed each; inconspicuous
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 15-17, at least (Is anyone else growing it to confirm zones?)
USDA Zones: 5-10
Light: Full sun
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low
Texture: Sand, loam, clay, rocky
Moisture Retention: Well-drained. Accepts periods of dryness
pH: Lightly acidic to highly alkaline
Tolerances: Drought, deer
Branch Strength: N/A
Insects: None observed at time of posting
Disease: None observed at time of posting
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Clebsch, B. (1997). A Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden. Portland: Timber Press.
Conabio. "Salvia reptans Jacq." National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, Mexico City. Accessed on October 4, 2021, from http://www.conabio.gob.mx/malezasdemexico/lamiaceae/salvia-reptans/fichas/ficha.htm.
Plant Database. "Salvia reptans." Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin. Accessed on October 4, 2021, from https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SARE5.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on June 28, 2021.