Sunday, June 22, 2014

Blue Salvia

Weather: Strong winds developed most afternoons; last rain 6/13/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Catalpa, Dr Huey and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, silver lace vine, weeping yucca, daylily, red hot poker, hollyhock, datura, larkspur, Jupiter’s beard, bouncing Bess, golden spur columbine, pink evening primrose, alfalfa, sweet pea, purple-flowered salvia, Shasta daisy, yellow yarrow.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, pink and white bindweed, showy milkweed, amaranth, Hopi tea, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, plains paper flowers.

In my yard, looking east: Maltese cross, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, baby’s breath, pink-flowered salvia, winecup mallow, coral bell.

Looking south: Betty Prior, Fairy and rugosa roses.

Looking west: Johnson’s Blue geranium, Rumanian sage, purple beardtongue, catmint, blue flax.

Looking north: Coral beard tongue, butterfly milkweed, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis.

In the open, along the drive: Dutch white clover, California poppy, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Pansies, snapdragon, sweet alyssum, blue salvia, French marigold.

Seeds: Scarlet flax putting out second leaves.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, geckos, small birds, grasshoppers, small black ants, wasps, hawk moths on golden spur columbine.

Weekly update: Blue salvia is one of those bedding plants that shows up in small numbers in nurseries that cater to the more advenureous gardeners. It never does well enough to develop a group of loyal consumers.

I discovered it when I was living in Michigan. The first year the Blue Victoria strain did well. After that, it was haphazard. I didn’t find it every spring, and the ones I did find didn’t do as well as had the first.

When I moved to New Mexico, I tried some Blue Victoria, but it didn’t do well enough to try again. I had no luck the one year I tried seeds.

Then, when I ordered seeds for blue flowered annuals to plant along the western edge of the new drive area, I reconsidered the species. Last summer, the seeds germinated and bloomed late. I couldn’t see the flowers from any distance and didn’t buy more seeds. They weren’t worth the effort.

I did buy four bedding plants this year, but so far they haven’t done much more than tread water. Again, I can only see the blue when I’m near it.

The winter was a an odd one, not cold enough to kill snapdragons, which are tender perennials. When I was weeding out grass and weeds to plant this year’s seeds by the drive, I left some shrubby plants that looked like "something." They weren’t larkspur or bachelor buttons, but they had the look of being something more than the usual weed in disguise.

Now, those orphans have turned into eight-inch high skirts of long, narrow leaves with long, square stems rising to blue-flowered racemes.

Salvia farinacea is a Texas and New Mexican wildflower that seems to be native to the rivers that flow south from the Llano Estancia.

George Bentham defined the species in 1833 from a specimen in the Hooker herbarium, probably the collection of William Jackson Hooker, curator of Kew Gardens. Bentham noted it was found in Texas along the Rio Guadalupe and the Rio Colorado. The one empties into the Gulf of Mexico through the San Antonio estuary. The other goes through Austin to arrive at Matagorda Bay.

V. Harvard, a surgeon with the US army, described the member of the mint family as ubiquitous in the prairies along the Rio Concho. That river eventually feeds a larger tributary of the Texas Colorado at San Angelo.

Later, Franklin Sumner Earle and his wife, Esther Skehan Earle, discovered the flowers on a rocky ledge 35 miles west of Roswell, New Mexico, in the drainage of the Berrendo river. He no doubt was searching for fungi, which were his special interest. The Berrendo flows into the Hondo, which flows into the Pecos.

Blue salvia has naturalized elsewhere where conditions are favorable. In North Carolina, it may live five years on the outer coastal plain. Elsewhere, it is an annual.

George DeLange has said it has been found in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas. Some may be part of the same colony as the Texas plants, others may be exclaves.

I consider mine to be a fluke. While the tubular flowers are pollinated by medium and large sized bees, the seeds need cold, wet conditions to germinate. I doubt very much the woody roots will survive another winter or the flowers will produce seeds that will sprout.

Bentham, George. Labiatarum Genera Et Species (1832).

Harvard, V. "Report on the Flora of Western and Southern Texas," United States National Museum, Proceedings, 1885.

DeLange, George. "Xeriscape Landscaping Plants For The Arizona Desert Environment," his website.

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. "Salvia farinacea," extension office website.

Rose, Joseph Nelson and Paul Carpenter Standley. Report on a Collection of Plants from the Pinacate Region of Sonora (1912), describes the Earle specimens.

Photographs: All taken around by drive, 22 June 2014

1. Close up of seed-grown plant; the common name, mealy cup sage, comes from the fur surrounding the flower.

2. Bedding plant; container was unlabeled so I don’t know the variety.

3. Species flowers at base of raceme on square stem.

4. Bedding plant growing under the peach tree; it’s much shorter than the species.

5. Two-year old species plant leaves.

6. Species plant growing near a fern bush.

7. Species buds on raceme.  This is what’s visible from a distance and in #5.

8.  Species flowers.

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