Salvia is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, with more than 900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. It is one of several genera commonly referred to as sage. When used without modifiers, sage generally refers to Salvia officinalis ("common sage"); however, it is used with modifiers to refer to any member of the genus. The ornamental species are commonly referred to by their genus name Salvia.
The genus is distributed throughout the Old World and the Americas, with the center of diversity and origin appearing to be Central and Southwestern Asia, while nearly 500 species are native to Mexico and Central and South America.
Salvia species include annual, biennial, or perennial herbs, along with woody subshrubs. The stems are typically angled like other members in Lamiaceae. The leaves are commonly entire, but sometimes are toothed, or pinnately divided. The flowering stems bear small bracts, dissimilar to the basal leaves, in some species they are ornamental and showy.
The flowers are produced in racemes, or panicles, and generally produce a showy display with flower colors ranging from blue to red, with white and yellow less common. The calyx is normally tubular or bell shaped, without bearded throats, and divided into two parts or lips, the upper lip entire or three-toothed, the lower two-cleft. The corollas are often claw shaped and are two-lipped. The upper lip is usually entire or three-toothed. The lower lip typically has two lobes. The stamens are reduced to two short structures with anthers two-celled, the upper cell fertile, and the lower imperfect. The flower styles are two-cleft. The fruits are smooth ovoid or oblong nutlets and in many species they have a mucilaginous coating.
Many salvias have trichomes (hairs) growing on the leaves, stems, and flowers, which help to reduce water loss in some species. Sometimes the hairs are glandular and secrete volatile oils that typically give a distinct aroma to the plant. When the hairs are rubbed or brushed, some of the oil-bearing cells are ruptured, releasing the oil. This often results in the plant being unattractive to grazing animals and some insects.
See Also: Flowers, Florist, Florists
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