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2006 Kansas Wildflower of the Year

Blue Sage

BLUE or PITCHER SAGE Salvia azurea

Pitcher Sage


"Pitcher" - named for Dr. Zina Pitcher, a 19th century U.S. Army surgeon and botanist; "sage" (from French) and "Salvia" (from Latin) safe or well because some plants of this genus have medicinal properties; "azurea" (from Latin) blue; "grandiflora" (from Latin) large flower.


flower (x 1½)


Blue salvia, pitcher salvia.


Salvia pitcheri.


Mint family (Lamiaceae). This species can be recognized as a mint by its opposite leaves, square stems (in cross section) and two-lipped flowers. Garden sage used in seasoning is a member of the genus Salvia.


Blue sage is a hardy drought-resistant plant easy to propagate and grow.  It produces attractive blue flowers in late summer and fall. It grows from 2 to 4 feet tall. The foliage is gray-green. Although it has a fragrance, the odor of the foliage is not nearly as strong as in many other members of the mint family. Blue sage usually begins blooming in July (a few may begin earlier) and may bloom until early October. Light blue two-lipped flowers are borne in a series of dense clusters around the upper part of the stem and on short branches. Only a few flowers in a cluster are in bloom at anyone time. The flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch in length. The corollas drop readily when the flowers are picked.


Blue sage is a warm-season, long-lived perennial. Each plant has one major stem or a few stems growing in a clump. Each stem is simple or has a few branches. Like many other mints blue sage has a square stem and opposite leaves. The narrow leaves extend out from all four sides of the stem, and are produced from the bottom to the terminal inflorescence. The lower leaves are usually shed early. When this plant is grown without competition, it may become too tall and fall over. Moderate clipping early in the season will maintain a better form. The branched roots are deep (to 8 feet). Weaver (1968) reported that plants of this species doubled their root depth in response to extreme drought. Blue sage may volunteer from seed but it does not spread aggressively. Seedlings started in early spring will usually flower by fall.


None recorded for this species. Some other North American species of this genus were used by Indians in making beverages and soup; seeds were also roasted and ground into meal (Yanovsky 1936).


Blue sage is readily eaten by livestock and wildlife (Bare 1980). The flowers are pollinated by large bees, particularly bumblebees, and are sometimes visited by hummingbirds. The adaptation of the flowers for efficient cross-pollination by bees is described by Bare (1979).


The fruits consist of one or two light brown resin-dotted nutlets borne at the bottom of the persistent calyx tube. The nutlets are elliptical, flattened and approximately 1/8 inch long. They should be collected as soon as the calyx becomes dry, usually in September. The nutlets can be removed from the calyx tube and separated from the chaff with sieves.


seed (x 9)


Without any pretreatment, 0-40% of the seeds will germinate. Moist stratification for 4 to 8 weeks will increase germination to 80% or close to the percentage of viable seeds.


Unstratified seed can be planted in the field in fall or stratified seed can be planted in spring. The seedlings can also be easily grown indoors and have few problems. They can be started in pots or they can be started in flats and transferred to pots. The pots are generally filled with the coiled taproots in a few weeks.

The pair of cotyledons on the seedling are typical of mints in shape. They are heart-shaped, rounded at the tip, widest at the base and notched where they attach to a moderately long stalk. The true leaves arise in pairs on an upright growing stem. The true leaves are elongate and toothed around the edges.


seedling (actual), true leaves (actual)


Salac et al. (1978) reported that this species could be propagated by stem cuttings.


Blue sage grows in the eastern 3/4 of Kansas. The varietygrandiflora is also found in parts of Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, Nebraska and Missouri. The species is found east to South Carolina and Florida.


Blue sage grows on open sunny sites in well-drained upland prairie. It is common along roadsides and in other moderately disturbed habitats. It has been reported to grow in rocky and sandy sites (Barkley et al. 1986) but it does not grow commonly in dune sand in western Harvey County, Kansas.


Bare, Janet E. 1979. Wildflowers and Weeds of Kansas. Lawrence, KS: The Regents Press of Kansas, xii + 509 pp.

Bare, Janet E. 1980. Wildflower in the spotlight: pitcher's salvia. Kansas Wildflower Society Newsletter 2(3):20.

Barkley, T.M., Ronald L. McGregor, Ralph E. Brooks and Eileen K. Schofield (eds.). 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, viii + 1392 pp.

Salae, S.S., P.M. Jensen, J.A. Dickerson and RW. Gray Jr. 1978. Wildflowers for Nebraska Landscapes. Lincoln, NE: The Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, 28 pp.

Weaver, J.E. 1968. Prairie Plants and Their Environment. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, xiv + 276 pp.

Yanovsky, E. 1936. Food Plants of the North American Indians. U.S. Dept. Agric. Misc. Publ. no. 237:1-84.

Source: Growing Native Wildflowers by Harder and Platt. page 91.14