Red Sage, Salvia pentstemonoides: Summer-blooming perennial once thought to be extinct
Description: Big Red Sage, Salvia pentstemonoides, also called Penstemon Sage, is an herbaceous perennial native to the Texas Hill Country. In nature, it is only found on banks along streams and on seeps on limestone ledges in the central Edwards Plateau. In North Texas, Big Red Sage usually grows 18-36 inches wide and 30-48 inches tall. Its 4-6 inch leaves are deep green, elongated, and glossy, looking similar to penstemon leaves, which explains its botanical and second common name.
Flowers and Seeds: Big Red Sage blooms from June through the fall. The 1.5-2 inch flowers appear on spikes that grow above the foliage and are deep-red to purplish-red in color. Seeds may be collected following flowering.
Planting sites: Big Red Sage thrives in partial and dappled shade, although with more water, it can be grown in full sun. It tolerates a range of soil pH.
Watering Instructions: Big Red Sage should be given supplemental water during its first season in the garden. After it is established, it is moderately drought tolerant. During a summer dry spell, it will need to be watered deeply as often as once every 10 days depending on the temperature. Like many Texas natives, Big Red Sage should have adequate drainage; it will not tolerate “wet feet.”
Comments: Big Red Sage was first described by the great Texas botanist Ferdinand Lindheimer in the 1840’s, but by the 1950’s it was thought to be extinct. Fortunately, in the 1980’s it was rediscovered growing in the Texas Hill Country, where it is still quite rare. Because it is so pretty and amenable to cultivation, it has entered the nursery trade, although it can be frustratingly hard to find. Big Red Sage is a well behaved garden plant. It has a very pleasant citrus fragrance and is deer resistant. It self-seeds, but not prolifically, and can be propagated through cuttings. Big Red Sage is a hummingbird magnet and attracts butterflies. It may be pruned in the late fall after it finishes flowering and will die back to a rosette after a freeze. New growth recurs in the spring.
Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.
Written by Dr. Becca Dickstein