Saving seed of New World Sages

rich_dufresne(z7 NC)August 25, 2004

Seeds of New World sages are hard to come by because bumblebees abort the pollination process by poking a hole at the base of the flower to get at the nectary glands. The altered flower can't be pollinated later by hummingbirds.

What is often called seeds at the base of the calyx is the inflated gynobase, the platform that the seeds develop on. If this "seed" has an irregular look, especially with four pits or depressions in a square pattern, it is not a seed. Salvia seeds are oval in shape and come to a point at the end they had been attached. They may have ridges towards this end, if all four of the seeds had been formed.

If formed, they will fall out soon after ripening, since the calyx dries our into a rigid cylinder (and remains on the flower stem, an important visual clue of successful pollination). There usually is not a ring of hairs (an annulus) to hold seed in after ripening

The seeds are usually shiny black or dark brown when ripe. If they are moldy (from rain or heavy dew), they will not germinate and will contaminate healthy germinating seeds.

So in you want to collect seeds, check each day and monitor persistent calyxes that fatten up and turn golden. Look inside the calyx for 1 to 4 developing seeds that will turn at least dark brown when ripe. Pinch the end of the calyx together and pull down, then place the collected calyxes and seed in a tray to fully dry and ripen. Remove moldy seed and chaff, then store in a paper envelope.

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penny1947(z6 WNY)

Thank you Rich for all the wonderful insight into collecting salvia seed. I was very fortunate to have 4 seeds germinate this spring from my Salvia Guaranitica Black and Blue that I purchased last year and grew in a container. Three look like the parent as far as foilage but I don't know what the flowers are going to look like. One has its first flower spike but they haven't opened yet. The calyx appears to be a greenish blue or greenish black. The fourth is a red flowering salvia. The flower buds aren't fully opened yet so I have no idea what it will turn out to be either.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2004 at 6:58PM
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rosewomann(z7 MD Montg. Co)

Thanks so much for explaining this, Rich. The gynobase is exactly what throws off the newbie collector. I spent so much time trying to find seed in my San Carlos Festival & Black & Blue. Frequently I was left holding the gynobase & wondering if it could possibly be seed. I figured it out finally by looking at the seed of an easy seeder before it was ripe(coral nymph), by tearing open the calyx. This is truly the way to learn to collect Salvia seed! I'm so happy to finally have the name for the base. I wanted to post here to move this post up - so others can learn from your expertise. There was a great picture online that also explained it for me. I will list it below for the newbies & some oldies that may like the visuals. Ever since you mentioned the holes the bees make in the B & B calyces , I've seen light shining through them! Thanks again! Maybe your explanation would make a nice FAQ for this forum. It would certainly help the legions of new Salvia lovers!

Here is a link that might be useful: A primer on the mint family/ great site!

    Bookmark   October 14, 2004 at 7:32PM
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CA Kate

At least NOW I know WHAT to look for. Thanks Rich.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2004 at 12:46AM
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rosewomann(z7 MD Montg. Co)

Thought this would be a good time to bump this up- seeing that there have been some questions about this lately.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 11:10PM
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This sure answered my question - now I know what I am looking for. Thanks so much for bumping this post up.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 9:04AM
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wardw(z6 NJ)

That explains what all the bumblebees are doing in the guarantica. I used to feel a little sorry for them because it appeared they were doing a lot of work for little or no return, since they were always landing at the base of the flower. I should have known better, or at least looked a little more carefully. Oh well, it's their garden too.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 10:31AM
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Bringing it up for Judy.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 4:21PM
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ilsonshine(z5/6 IL)

Thanks for this interesting info about the seeds. I'll be thinking of that for next year. What can I do to keep the Black and Blue Salvias I have right now?

I will truly appreciate any expert advice or good suggestions to help me save these 2 plants. I live about 90 minutes east of the St. Louis Arch, on the edge of zones 5 & 6. One person I know had hers come back this spring, but I don't think B&B are usually hardy here. Thank you in advance for your kind assistance. Gina

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 2:59PM
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wardw(z6 NJ)

You could pot them up and put them in a sunny window. You could take cutting and root them for next year - again a sunny window, although not too sunny until the cuttings have rooted. Don't cut the stem of any plants left in the ground. They will gather water and freeze. Not everyone agrees about leaf mulch, but it works for me. I let the plants freeze then put a big pile of leaves on top. Some folks say this encourages vole damage, but I have voles, heck, everyone has voles, and my plants come through OK. And one last thing. If you're to have any hope of overwintering them your soil much be well drained.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 3:31PM
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carrie751(z7/8 TX)

Black and Blue salvias are perennials here in Texas, but they root so easily. Take cuttings and overwinter in a warm place.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2005 at 9:01AM
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Wanted to bump this up, since it was such a big help to me thought it might come in handy for others.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2006 at 10:24AM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

Many gardeners are collecting seed right now so this is a good time to bring this topic back up.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2006 at 6:26AM
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ramazz(8a VA)

Hi, I am in Newport News, Virginia and have a very large black and blue. My question is about collecting seed. I see some calyxes (or whatever the plural is) on the plant that don't seem to have holes in them. Some are closed up and some are open at the top. None look dried out. I took one of the open ones off and it appears to have seed inside, but they are not ripe. How do I tell when the seed is ripe? Thanks in advance.


    Bookmark   October 1, 2006 at 10:09PM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

Becky when you look down into the open calyx the ripe seeds will be very black. the calyx will usually be much more open and will at least be starting to turn brown and somewhat dry also. Keep in mind that Black & Blue is notorious for cross pollinating and the plants may or may not come true to the parent depending on what other salvias have been grown nearby. I usually have a 20-30% chance of my seedlings coming true. Two years ago I had 1 out of 4 plants to come true. This year I had two plants out of 6 come true. Your best bet is to take cuttings of your existing plants if you want to insure that you have additional B%B salvias for next year. I collect the seed and sow it b/c I get a thrill out of seeing what will develop but I also take cuttings of my existing plants and even purchase new ones from time to time just to insure that I always have at least 2 or 3 true B&Bs.

I am sure Rich will offer more precise information for you on seed collecting.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 7:22AM
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ramazz(8a VA)


Thanks, that is the information I need. I have taken cuttings and have several B&Bs around the yard. My biggest one is the size of a shrub. I actually would love to have something new pop up. I have an "Argentina Skies" near the big B&B so it is possible they could have cross-pollinated.

I will check the plant in a few days to see if any of the seeds look ripe. Any idea on how long it takes between green seeds and ripe ones after the bloom has fallen off?


    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 4:25PM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

Rich would know more about the timing from development to ripe than I would. Right now my seeds are not ripening as quickly since it has cooled down quite a bit and we have had lots of rain. Ealier on it seems like it was just a matter of days. They do take longer to ripen than coccineas do at least for me. I just go out on a daily basis and randomly check the calyxes that I can get to without disturbing the bees that have taken the plants over since my hummers left.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 5:34PM
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aspenbooboo41(6a Northeast PA)

Giving this a bump for '07. Just the info I was looking for!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2007 at 10:14PM
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I agree. This is very helpful information for those of us who are learning to collect seeds.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2007 at 7:05PM
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I have a question about the seeds inside the calyx. If they are all not brown or black in color, will they eventually turn brown or black? I have opened a calyx in which one seed is brown and the rest of them are either cream color and/or somewhere in between. Will those turn brown later?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2007 at 11:34PM
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rich_dufresne(z7 NC)

As long as the nascent seeds are beginning to turn from cream to tan, the ripening enzymatic processes have initiated and will continue, for the most part. Collecting seed in this stage of development is most advantageous if you are in the field with limited access to the plants, or just before a freeze.

I set these aside when cleaning seed because not all of them will continue to ripen, and they are usually weaker germinators. If they are much smaller or off-color, I'll save them as a separate lot and test their germination before offering them to others.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 12:49AM
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