Salvia clevelandii in California

ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)May 26, 2008

Here's one that's familiar to many of you. Salvia clevelandii (a.k.a. Cleveland sage, blue sage, musk sage, fragrant sage, chaparral sage, perhaps others) is available in Calif. nurseries both as straight species (or selections such as "Winnifred Gilman") and as hybrids, most often with S. leucophylla. The hybrids are much more popular in the trade than the straight species, and some nurseries sell plants that are alleged to be straight species, but which are in fact hybrids. Cuttings get passed from nursery to nursery, and some nursery owners have never seen wild plants and don't know that they are selling hybrids. I know this, because I recently talked to the owner of a small native-plant nursery, and he said the original cutting of the alleged Cleveland sage that I was examining came from one of the most-prestigious and best-known native plant nurseries, yet it was clear to me that the plant was a hybrid.

Salvia clevelandii occurs on the coastal side of the mountains from northern San Diego Co., Calif., south into northwestern Baja Calif., Mexico. A couple of small populations are alleged to occur in southwestern Riverside Co., just north of the county line, but they have been inaccessible to me so far. Most populations are below about 4000 ft. elev., but there's a very nice population at Inaja Memorial Park in San Diego Co. that must be pretty close to that elevation. S. clevelandii occurs in coastal sage scrub and chaparral plant associations. S. clevelandii's distribution is spotty within its range, and it is absent from many places that would appear to be suitable.

As with most Calif. sages, S. clevelandii is adapted to a Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Summer nights remain below 60F in most parts of its natural range. Most areas average between 10 and 25 inches per year, most of falling from late November through early April, with great year-to-year variability. In the highest parts of its range, such as the Inaja population mentioned previously, S. clevelandii experiences occasional winter snow. However, there are also specimens near the ocean that virtually never see snow and only occasional light winter frost.

Salvia clevelandii was described by Asa Gray in 1874 and named for Daniel Cleveland, collector of the type specimens. Cleveland was a business man and amateur naturalist who lived in San Diego in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. S. clevelandii was not named for President Grover Cleveland or for Cleveland National Forest.

I took these photos on 26 May 2008 at Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, San Diego Co., Calif. Representative coordinates are 33.21705 N, 116.93391 W, 2041 ft. elev. +- 26 ft.

The Hellhole Canyon population burned in a devestating fire in Oct 2003. Fire is part of the natural cycle in this plant community, and, provided another fire doesn't occur very soon, it will completely recover. Alas, the hills and area around the rural community in the background of one of the photos burned a second time in Oct 2007, and they are threatened with what's called "type conversion," whereby the scrub and chaparral plants can't come back and are replaced by non-native grasses, which are an even greater fire hazard.

One photo shows the interior of a plant. It might be hard for you to see, but I can see clearly that the plant is now getting its summer leaves, which are smaller and grayer than its cool-season leaves.

The last photo shows the soil at this site. You can see that it is mainly gravel (decomposed granite) with chunks of rock. I've seen this species growing in what amounts to shattered rock, not "soil" as one usually understands the term.

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hybridsage

I can understand we have the same problem here but
they will list Salvia microphylla as greggii. Hybrids
get called S. greggii. Then serious confussion when
S.coccinea,S.farinacea all show up as S splendens. Our
problem is lots of non english speaking people tagging
plants and growers interested in turning a fast buck
not keeping cuttings staight and just don't care what they
have. We have one grower that sells say a pink S.greggii with multiple cuttings as well as multiple colors in the
same pot.Plus never seeing a plant in habitat. The general
public has no idea they are buying product that is not botanically correct either. But there are a few nurseries
that do keep what the have straight. thanks for the pictures!!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 8:29PM
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CA Kate

Great photos and tutorial. thanks!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2008 at 12:50AM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Thank you for your comments.

Some housekeeping: (1) I misspelled "devastating." Sorry. (2) The S. clevelandii population at Inaja Memorial Park is about 3400 ft. elev., well under the 4000 ft. maximum elevation I suggested. I had implied that the Inaja (pronounced "ee-nah-hah") population was bumping up against this ceiling.

Here are three more photos of S. clevelandii. These were taken today, 27 May 2008. These plants are just east of Margarita Pk., San Diego Co., CA. Coordinates are 33.44516 N, 117.38025 W, 2371 ft. elev. +- 30 ft. This is nearly the northernmost natural population of S. clevelandii. There are a few additional plants a couple of miles north. The flowering season of S. clevelandii is just getting started in this area. Aside from the patch in the photos and a few others, most are still in the bud stage.

I don't think the color response of my camera (Nikon Coolpix 4500) quite matches the response of the eye. Blue flowers image lighter than they appear in life. I noticed a color discrepancy in the Salvia eremostachya photos I posted awhile back, and I see it here. Most of the clevelands in this area have deep blue flowers, very much like the cultivar "Winnifred Gilman." Seen in life, the color is spectacular.

In the general view picture, which looks east, you can see a firebreak (looks like a road) heading off into the distance. The vegetation to the right (south) of the firebreak was burned in the Roblar Fire of Oct 2003, which was concurrent with the Cedar Fire that burned the plants at Hellhole Canyon. I have photos of this same area from July 2007, and the vegetation has really come back this year.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2008 at 2:01AM
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lorna-organic

Thank you for the comprehensive info, CCroulet. You are very thorough, and the photos are well done.

Lorna

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 10:56PM
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kelpmermaid(10S24)

Thanks, CC. I am attempting to grow what I believe to be (or at least thought I purchased) S. Clevelandii in my old beach dune sand near LA. We'll see what ultimately happens and what it really is, and now I have your post to use as a benchmark. Do you know how long it takes to mature to the point of flowering? I planted it from a 4" pot in the no-rain fall/winter of 2006-2007, and it appears to have picked up quite a bit of growth this spring.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 8:27PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

> Do you know how long it takes to mature to the point of flowering?

Sorry, I have no direct knowledge. I suspect it would take two years from seed to flowering, but I suppose it might happen in a year. I have some have cuttings, taken this spring from wild plants, some of which look like they're getting ready to flower soon. I also hope to collect some seeds, but it'll be fall before I germinate them, meaning it could be 2010 before the bloom. My plants in the ground, planted from "1 gallon" pots from commercial nurseries in June 2007, are flowering now. They include three Winnifred Gilmans and one supposed no-special-cultivar standard cleveland, really a hybrid in my opinion. At the time I bought it, I'd never seen wild plants. At least some hybrid versions grow larger, bloom earlier, more profusely, and for a longer period than straight clevelands, probably reflecting the S. leucophylla half of the mix. A nearby "planned community" has hundreds of them. Their blooming period appears to be waning now. Some hybrids have "the smell," some don't. Unless you're really determined to have genuine straight clevelands, I wouldn't worry about it. In my case, I'm interested in propagating plants from the closest natural populations accessible to me, perpetuating the vain fancy that they could have been here if the houses weren't.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 10:13PM
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kelpmermaid(10S24)

Mine does have "the smell," so I have some hope. I am slightly north of the natural range, so we'll see what happens.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 1:39PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

kelpermaid: Climate-wise, you should be fine. People are growing them in no. Calif. Is this L.A. Co. or O.C.? My early years were in the Westchester area of L.A., and I know the climate well (would be USDA 10 Sunset 24).

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 2:38PM
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kelpmermaid(10S24)

LA county - It's just on the other side of the runways, but that's the climate. We do get our share of fog, but mainly moderate temps. My poppies are on their last legs now.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 5:19PM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

kelpmermaid,
I think with a favorable spot it is normal for Salvia clevelandii in Southern California to grow from a rooted cutting to a four foot tall by four foot wide bush in a single year or so. Most of the growth occurs in the spring, so if, for example, you plant a small one in summer, expect it to stay small for the remainder of the summer - perhaps reach a foot tall or so. Then in winter it will begin to grow and by spring it would be perhaps three ft by three ft and would probably bloom on many stems. After blooming it might put on additional growth to be a four by four bush a year after planting. Without your intervention (cutting back) you'd probably have a six by six ft bush the third year, which might be near maximum size, even in a watered garden. Mine in coastal Orange County, where they get regular water and about the same temps as the LAX area, don't really grow much in late summer and autumn, and some time in summer or fall I cut them back to about a foot tall to keep their size in bounds each year. After the first round of blooms on the tips of the stems, I usually see more flowers along the sides of the stems about this time of the year, and I will wait until the flowers fade to cut back. All of this applies to S. clevelandii in a watered situation. Without supplemental water, I am sure they'd graw more slowly. I am growing S. clevelandii 'Pozo Blue,' some that are very similar to 'Pozo Blue' but were simply labeled S clevelandii, and a couple of S clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' which grow more slowly, don't seem to get more than three or four ft tall, and bloom later than the other cultivars I have.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 3:51PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Of plants in the ground, I have three Winnifreds and one unknown hybrid (sold to me as S. clevelandii but clearly not). The hybrid and one Winnie were planted almost exactly one year ago, another Winnie in Oct '07 and another in Jan '08. They haven't grown nearly that fast or that large. I hope they'll fill out in another year.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 8:59PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

WRT the question about time from seed to flowering: Although I can't answer for S. clevelandii, I can say that I have a large number of S. apiana and S. mellifera that I germinated from seed in fall '07, and none of them have given any hint of flowering this year.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 7:35PM
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kelpmermaid(10S24)

Well, I got up there (on top of retaining wall) to clean up post-poppy mess, and I see the the plant that I think is some version of S. Clevelandii is larger than I thought - not in height, but in width. It looks like it has been pushed over slightly, but it appears to be doing well. I wonder if it isn't stunted due to the poor conditions the year of planting.

I do have a massive S. mellifera planted in the fall of 2005 - I suspect it is getting some water from my neighbor's sprinklers on the other side of the fence.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 9:31PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Salvia clevelandii. Inaja Memorial Park, San Diego Co., Calif. 20 June 2008. 33.09706 N, 116.66497 W, 3383 ft. elev. +-23 ft. The plants were at the peak of flowering today. They were spectacular. I've made a point of photographing the exact plant in the first photo whenever I visit Inaja. The flowers were on a nearby plant (didn't require kneeling down). It was a very hot day: 106F at home in Temecula (Riverside Co.), 99F at Pine Hills (San Diego Co.), the closest weather station to Inaja.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 3:21AM
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kelpmermaid(10S24)

Gorgeous! You are certainly devoted to be out in the heat! I can almost smell the plants from your photos, LOL!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 10:32AM
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cheshirekatttt(5)

I recently bought two of the Clevelands from a local nursery. They claim this salvia can be a perennial here so I hope they are right because I planted them in the ground out front. If the winters are too cold, I will buy more next year and keep them in pots to bring inside during winter. They have a wonderful scent. I was immediately in love and had to have them although I have some other salvias I recently purchased.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2008 at 1:09AM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

cheshirekattt: Las Pilitas says they can handle temps down to 10F. The highest natural populations of S. clevelandii would rarely see temps that low. The plants at Inaja Memorial Park (see my June 20 photos), probably one of the highest natural populations, experience occasional snow and regular winter frost. The lowest official temp I can quickly find for the area is 9F, recorded in Dec 1968 at Julian/Wynola, which was about 200 ft. higher than Inaja. The data set runs from 1949 thru 1988, about 40 years' worth of data. Sharp-eyed Californians should note that the Julian/Wynola weather instruments were lower than the town of Julian, which is about 4200 ft. elev.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2008 at 3:43PM
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desertsage(7b USDA Sunset 10)

Love this post a lot. Had to bump it with a question now that S. clevelandii is in bloom again.

My S. clevelandii has been in full bloom here in S Arizona for 3 weeks. I have noticed a marked decrease in the amount of bees pollinating my garden this spring. I have all so noticed Carpenter bees robbing nectar from the caylx. The hummers were busy early on, but most are feeding babies protein now.

Think I should get my art brushes out and help Mother Nature.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 10:01PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

I'm not clear: what's the question? I have carpenter bees, and they frequently visit my S. apiana. I know they're said to puncture flower bases, but I haven't observed that behavior. We have abundant honeybees. My S. clevelandii hybrid (sold as S. cleve. but almost certainly a hybrid) is in full bloom now, going back about 5 days. Real S. clevelandii are just now starting to flower. I haven't had a chance to visit my nearest natural population yet to see how they're doing. Been a mostly cool spring. Snow on Palomar Mtn. today.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 8:08PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

Then my s. clevelandii must be a hybrid also, though it came to me years ago as clevelandii...it's been in bloom for a month or so now. We were in Julian today and it felt like winter, quite cold and we were told it had been sleeting off and on. Had I known there was snow on Palomar, we would have taken a run up there also. Ended up in Temecula with pizza at the duck pond and spotted the stand of s. carduacea....nice.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 9:52PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Most nursery people have never seen S. clevelandii in nature and don't know what it really looks like. They don't know that what they're selling are hybrids, or at least genetically contaminated. When you went to Julian, you were close to a nice population of S. clevelandii at Inaja Memorial Park. See my June 21, 2008, photos. There's also some S. sonomensis (rare in S.D. Co.) along Sunrise Hwy.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 10:49PM
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desertsage(7b USDA Sunset 10)

I tend to ramble.

Would hand pollinating (paint brushes)help since the bees don't seem to be doing the job.

I can still see snow in the Chiricahua Mtns behind my property.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 8:41AM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Hand pollinating: it should work. But you won't be as tireless or thorough as the bees!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 2:05PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

I should have stopped at Inaja. We were making a quick run up to get birdseed. I'd rather give the bird store there the business than any of the large stores down here...plus I get a nice ride out of it....makes the birdseed more expensive though.....

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 4:23PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Next time you pass by Inaja, stop and walk the trail. As you go out past the restroom structure, you'll start to see some Clevelands. There's a particular plant that I've photographed every time I go there. It's in my June 21, '08, posting.

I used to buy my birdseed at Wild Birds Unlimited in Carlsbad, but there was a change of ownership, and the new owner took out the bookshelves and big selection of birding books. That took the fun out of going there. At the time, the petfood chains only sold tiny plastic bags of nyger thistle, which was uneconomical. Now Petsmart has the big bags, and they're conveniontly close by. I'd still go to WBU and buy my stuff there (I also enjoyed talking to Leilani!) if it were still as enjoyable as it was a few years ago.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 5:58PM
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desertsage(7b USDA Sunset 10)

I guess I will borrow a quote and, "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee".

Thanks, david

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 6:08PM
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desertsage(7b USDA Sunset 10)

After a good 6+ inches of rain from our summer monsoons, I am getting another flush of blossoms. In CA do you ever get a second bloom of S clevelandii?

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 6:38PM
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CA Kate

If I cut back the dead seed pods and water I will get a second, smaller flush of blooms

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 12:13AM
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desertsage(7b USDA Sunset 10)

Thanks. I never deadhead, the Goldfinches love the seeds.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 8:26AM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

desertsage: I haven't visited any wild clevelands since June, but my own clevelands never have a second bloom. Summer watering prolongs the blooming season a bit, but they don't bloom for a second time. S. clevelandii, like others of the Audibertia group, lives a cycle. Flowering is the climax of the wet/cool-season part of their annual cycle. As the flowers mature, the plants start to grow their smaller dry-season leaves. I'd think it would be difficult for them, physiologically, to reverse field and bloom a second time. Even a summer thunderstorm (we had one in July) would be insufficient to alter the cycle. As an additional point of interest, I have a cleveland that I bought from a commercial nursery and that appears to have a lot of S. leucophylla in it. It's entire bloom, which occurs in late May, takes about 10 days. If you don't pay attention, you can miss it. The clevelands that I grew from seed and cuttings flower later but much longer.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 7:39PM
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desertsage(7b USDA Sunset 10)

Thanks for your insight, I lived in SoCal and went to school in the Bay area, so I know the coastal weather/seasonal patterns a little. Here in the Sonoran, and Chihuahua Deserts we have the two rainy seasons. I know when I lived in Phoenix my S. apiana bloomed in July following the monsoon rains. My S. clevelandii first bloomed on about the 1st of May this year. We did have a wonderful winter rain season, first in a while. My S.apiana though looking very healthy, and lush has not even hinted at a flower stalk. Since I grow S. apiana for its foliage, no harm done.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 9:13PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

S. apiana in our area (Temecula, sw Riv. Co., CA) flowers from late May thru early July. One of mine had a few flowers until a couple of weeks ago. Yours flowering in July wouldn't be unusual, even here. I drive up to Palomar Observatory once or twice every week, so I'm constantly aware of the S. apiana along the way. It is abundant to around 4500 ft. on Hwy 76 & South Grade Rd. They were in major flowering through most of July. The coming winter is expected to be drier than normal, so it'll be interesting to see how the flowering plays out next spring. My Salvia "Dara's Choice" starts to flower in January, even while there is still a threat of frost, and S. mellifera starts flowering in late Feb-early Mar.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 10:46PM
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