Purple sage (Salvia leucophylla) is native to the low elevations of the coastal ranges of California and adjacent Baja California. The plant is a medium sized shrub that is three to six feet tall and just as wide. The plant is drought deciduous. That means that it loses some leaves in response to summer drought. This is a characteristic of plants of the coastal sage scrub plant community. The young leaves are light green and fade to a whiter shade as the weather gets hotter. Leucophylla means having white leaves. The foliage is fragrant. The stem carries whorls of light pinkish purple flowers in late spring and early summer.
The flowers are very attractive to bees and the Salvias are important components to the wildland summer honey of southern California. The plant is also attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Quail like the seeds. The plant is reported to be deer resistant.
Purple sage is not cold tolerant and is recommended for Sunset zones 8-9, 14-17, and 19-24. Plants should be grown in full sun. The plant is very drought tolerant and not tolerant of damp conditions. To keep the plants from losing many leaves in the summer, they can be watered once a month, but this also tends to shorten their life. Trimming should be done after flowering. This encourages new growth in the spring and keeps old growth from rotting out in wet winters. Plant in clay or loamy soil that has good drainage, like on a bank or hillside.
At least four cultivars exist:
- 'Amethyst Bluff' is up to 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide;
- 'Figueroa' is up to 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide, the foliage is especially silvery, and this cultivar is more cold tolerant than the species;
- 'Pinkie' is up to 3 feet high and 5 feet wide and the flowers are pink' ; and
- 'Point Sal Spreader', also known as 'Point Sal', is up to 2 1/2 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
Hybrids with other Salvias also exist. These include:
- 'Celestial Blue', which is hardy to 0F and heat and drought tolerant; and
- 'Pozo Blue', which is also hardy to 0F and is very heat and drought tolerant, is tolerant of sandy soil and desert locations, and grows to 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
Plants can be propagated from seed or from cuttings taken in the spring. Stems will root where they touch the ground.
Purple sage can be a trouble-free member of a California native plant garden. It needs no supplemental water and under proper growing conditions can live for years. It provides a contrasting silvery background for small shrubs, perennials, and annuals. As more and more coastal sage scrub is destroyed it will be more important for homeowners to grow this plant, which provides food for birds and beneficial insects.