Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tropical sage: a Florida native wildflower

A tattered gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
feeding on a tropical sage.

Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a beautiful, easy-to-grow Florida native wildflower in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It has a long blooming cycle and its flowers are usually scarlet red, but sometimes are pink, even in natural areas. In addition to attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees, tropical sage is the larval host for several sphynx moths. 

It's considered to be an annual, but I've had many that have lasted for two seasons and it's a prolific reseeder. So this plant is a wonderful addition to your pollinator gardens and wildflower meadows.

Managing tropical sage

Since this wildflower self-seeds, many times it plants itself in inconvenient places. For me, that often means in my vegetable gardens where the soil is well prepared and receptive to seed gemination. I know what the seedlings look like, so when they are in rows where I've planted crops, I'll transplant them into wildflower areas. It's best to do this when they are small, so they only need to be irrigated a couple of times before they adjust to their new spaces. 

Learn to recognize the troopical sage seedlings,
so when they sprout in inconvenient places, like
your vegetable garden, you can transplant them
 to better locations.
After a long season of blooming, the tropical sage
plants frequently send up new growth at the base
of the old flowering stalks.

Tropical sage as a container plant. 

Tropical sage does quite well in container gardens. Sometimes, it plants itself into containers with other plants, which is fine most of the time. I allow them to stay in place, especially for crop plant containers, because they attract so many pollinators. If I have a good number of seedlings to transplant, I'll create a whole new container just with this lovely native wildflower. This povides a mobile pollinator garden that can be moved near my crops that require pollination. A good example is the squash family crops, (squash, cucumber, melon, and pumpkin) which have separate male and female flowers. The female flowers need to be pollinated 7 to 10 times for a fruit to develop. So placing a pollinator garden right next to these crops helps with that process. (Read my article on Seminole pumpkins for more information on the sqaush flowers and more.)

Eastern black swallowtail
(Papilio polyxenes) feeding on a
tropical sage. Our freedom lawn
is in the background.
Native bees are frequent visitors.

Tropical sage in bloom for the holidays!
The bright red flowers of the tropical sage can
be used as festive bouquets for the holidays.
A tropical sage volunteered in with my
poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima).

It's not unusual to have tropical sage blooming as we go into the winter months here in North Florida, which means that their scarlet flowers are available for holiday decorations. A couple of years ago I had planted two store-bought poinsettias in a large container and grew them in area that receives no artificial light so that the short nights would induce blooming for the next holiday season. I loved that a tropical sage had planted itself into that container as well and was also in full bloom for my front-step holiday decor.

A giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes),
Florida's largest butterfly nectaring
on a tropical sage.

Listen to your landscape!

Here’s an example of how this plant compelled us to change our landscape. When we first moved into the house, I decided that just outside the back door from the kitchen would be the perfect place for an herb garden. The herbs did well there because of the hot afternoon sun of that southwestern facing wall. This bed also happens to be our view out the kitchen window where we eat most of our meals. But, after I’d introduced various natives into our landscape, some tropical sage planted itself into the herb garden. Well, those scarlet blooms attracted an ongoing parade of pollinators, including hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and wasps. They were much more fun to watch than observing the herbs. So I moved the herbs to another sunny space and planted more pollinator-friendly wildflowers outside our window. We have loved watching the ongoing pollinator party in our wildflower garden right outside our kitchen window. Read my article on this topic with more photos of our pollinator garden: Listening to your landscape.

So, I hope you'll add this amazing native wildflower to your yard and in your community spaces. The hummingbirds and other pollinators will thank you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt


Here's its plant profile on the FNPS website which includes a link to native nurseries that have it in stock.

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