Mexican sage, also called Mexican bush, velvet sage, or more properly, salvia leucantha, is a lovely perennial bush that produces velvety purple calyx and white or purple flowers in mid-summer. This plant is native to Mexico and South America, but is now also grown in the US. It does best in temperate zones, where it will remain evergreen throughout the year. In areas with frost or snow, Mexican sage tends to die back to root level, but bursts forth again when the weather turns warmer.
The leaves on a Mexican sage are shaped like lances, and lightly coated with fine hairs. They’re usually pale green in color and combined with the soft white down on the leaves they give off an attractive silver appearance. Leaf length is between one to five inches (2.54-12.7 cm). As summer approaches, the plant produces long stalks on which clusters of purple calyx grow. Calyces (plural of calyx) are not flowers, but are cuplike precursor to small white or purple blooms of the Mexican Sage. The purple calyx and the flowers of the plant make them attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds.
The Mexican sage bush can be a beautiful choice in filling the garden &mash; the plant can spread to about two to four feet (.61-1.21 m) in width and symmetrically grows to a similar height. The flower stalks may grow somewhat taller than the bushy parts of the plant. Mexican sage in areas that don’t receive regular frosts can be significantly larger, since they will grow a bit more each year. They do respond well to being trimmed back, as they may start to look leggy or scraggly if they’re not maintained.
The calyx stalks on the plant are fantastic additions to cut flower arrangements. They will keep their color and remain upright for several weeks. Stalks can also be dried without losing color and are beautifully worked into everlasting (dried flower) arrangements.
In order to prosper, Mexican sage should be planted in full sun. It can tolerate a little afternoon shade, and in fact, in very hot climates, afternoon sun can cause the plant to wilt a bit. In general, this plant is considered environmentally friendly since it is fairly drought resistant. Even in hot climates it may only require watering once or twice each week, in peak weather conditions.
Beginning gardeners might consider the Mexican sage because it tends to be an easy plant to grow, and very easy to ignore. The plants prove hardy, and if you forget to water them one week, you can merely revive them the next. In climates with winter frost, it isn’t even necessary to trim the plant, since it will naturally die back on its own.