Salvia L.

Salvia is, in its traditional circumscription, a genus of ca. 900 species (by far the largest in the Lamiaceae family). All are native to the temperate and tropical areas of the world. Only one species is native in Belgium, Salvia pratensis L. (Lambinon & Verloove 2012). Molecular data have shown that Salvia is not monophyletic (e.g. Walker & al. 2004). Although there is no consensus yet, some related genera like Perovskia and Rosmarinus are probably best united with it (Drew & al. 2017). The latest worldwide revision dates back to Briquet (1897) and the genus is badly in need of critical revision, emphasizing recent molecular data. Numerous species of Salvia are cultivated. Salvia officinalis is an important culinary herb (sage). About 100 species are grown as ornamentals in Europe, especially for their bright flowers or aromatic foliage (see Compton 2000 for a useful account; also Jäger & al. 2008). A few species are weeds of agricultural fields (for instance Salvia reflexa).

Species of Salvia are sometimes included in wild flower seed mixtures (Frank & John 2007, John & Böme 2007, Kiesewetter & Henker 2010), although perhaps less frequently so in Belgium. Native Salvia pratensis is frequently included in such mixtures but some records might refer to other, similar species (for instance Salvia virgata Jacq., distinguished by smaller corollas and inflorescences with elongated, erecto-patent branches or S. transsylvanica (Griseb.) Schur, a species with densely white-appressed lower leaf surfaces).

Original flower colour should be noted in the field. In the herbarium flowers readily fade in most species.

Salvia is a popular genus in horticulture. Several websites, some with plentiful of useful photos, provide a lot of additional useful information, e.g., etc.

1       Annual === 2 

         Perennial (rarely biennial) === 4

2       Inflorescence with a conspicuous “flag” at apex (i.e. a tuft of conspicuous, often purplish, flowerless bracts) === Salvia viridis

         Inflorescence without a “flag” at apex === 3

3       Corolla sky-blue. Leaves distinctly serrate, ovate to lanceolate, with impressed veins and hairy lower surface (mixture of simple and glandular hairs). Stem usually robust, often more than 50 cm === S. hispanica

         Corolla pale blue. Leaves nearly entire, linear to oblong-lanceolate, without impressed veins, glabrous or at most sparsely pubescent below. Stem usually slender, rarely exceeding 50 cm === S. reflexa

4       Corolla yellowish or cream. Leaves hastate === S. glutinosa

         Corolla blue, pink or purple. Leaves not hastate === 5

5       Flowers in whorls of (10-) 15-40. At least lower and middle cauline leaves with 1 or 2 pair of lateral segments at base === S. verticillata 

         Flowers in whorls of 1-6. Leaves different === 6

6       Small shrub, becoming woody at base. Leaf margin (sub-) entire. Very fragrant (sage). Corolla up to 35 mm long === S. officinalis 

         Herbaceous. Leaf margin distinctly crenate, serrate or lobed. Fragrant or not. Corolla usually much smaller (except in S. sclarea) === 7

7       Bracts very conspicuous, broadly ovate, 15-50 mm long (much longer than the calyx). Corolla 25-27 mm long === S. sclarea 

         Bracts shorter than the calyx to slightly longer than the calyx (in the latter case, corolla not exceeding 12 mm in length). Corolla up to 20 mm long === 8

8       Leaves pinnatipartite, at least in part === S. verbenaca 

         Leaves crenate to serrate, never pinnatipartite === 9

9       Stem without glandular hairs, more or less leafy throughout. Bracts usually purplish, at least as long as the calyx === S. nemorosa 

         Stem with glandular hairs (at least in the upper part). Leaves mostly in a basal rosette. Bracts usually greenish, shorter than the calyx (native) === S. pratensis

Additional aliens: Salvia aethiopis L. (Euras., wool alien) and S. lavandulifolia Vahl subsp. gallica Lippert (syn.: S. officinalis subsp. gallica (W. Lippert) Reales, D. Rivera & Obón) (SW-Eur., garden escape).


There is a vast literature on Salvia. Only a selection is presented beneath.

Alziar G. (1988) Catalogue synonymique des Salvia L. du monde (Lamiaceae): 1. Biocosme Mesogéen 5(3-4): 87-136.

Alziar G. (1989) Le genre Salvia. Biocosme Mesogéen 6(1-2): 79-115.

Alziar G. (1989) Catalogue synonymique des Salvia L. (Lamiaceae): 3. Biocosme Mesogéen 6(4): 163-204.

Alziar G. (1990) Catalogue synonymique des Salvia L. (Lamiaceae): 4. Biocosme Mesogéen 7(1-2): 59-109.

Alziar G. (1992) Catalogue synonymique des Salvia du monde (Lamiaceae): 5. Biocosme Mesogéen 9(2-3): 413-497.

Alziar G. (1993) Catalogue synonymique des Salvia du monde (Lamiaceae): 6. Biocosme Mesogéen 10(3-4): 33-117.

Bernabé C. (2004) Le monde des sauges. Editions du Rouergue, Rodez : 175 p.

Briquet J. (1897) Labiatae. In: Engler A. & Prantl. Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien nebst ihrer Gattungen und wichtigeren Arten 4. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig: 183-287.

Clebsch B. (2003) A book of Salvias. Sages for every garden (2nd ed.). Timber Press, Portland: 344 p.

Compton J.A. (2000) Salvia. In: Cullen J. & al. (eds.), The European Garden Flora, vol. 6. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 180-192.

Drew B.T., González-Gallegos J.G., Xiang C-L., Kriebel R., Drummond C.P., Walker J.B. & Sytsma K.J. (2017) Salvia united: The greatest good for the greatest number. Taxon 66(1): 133-145.

El-Gazzar A., Watson L., Williams W.T. & Lance G.N. (1968) The taxonomy of Salvia: a test of two radically different numerical methods. Bot. J. Linn. Soc. 60: 237-250.

Espejo S.A. & Ramamoorthy T.P. (1993) Revisión taxonómica de Salvia sección Sigmoideae (Lamiaceae). Acta Botánica Mexicana 23: 65-102. [available online at:]

Fernández-Alonso J.L. (2006) Revisión taxonómica de Salvia sect. Siphonantha (Labiatae). Anales del Jardín Botánico de Madrid 63: 145-157.

Frank D. & John H. (2007) Bunte Blumenwiesen – Erhöhung der Biodiversität oder Verstoss gegen Naturschutzrecht? Mitt. florist. Kart. Sachsen-Anhalt 12: 31-45. [available online at:]

Hruby K. (1962) Key to the supraspecific taxa of the genus Salvia L. Preslia 34: 368-373.

Jäger E.J., Ebel F., Hanelt P. & Müller G. (eds.) (2008) Rothmaler Band 5. Exkursionsflora von Deutschland. Krautige Zier- und Nutzpflanzen. Springer Verlag, Berlin: 880 p.

John H. & Böhme F. (2007) Salbei-Arten in Deutschland, die noch nicht im Rothmaler stehen. Mitt. Florist. Kart. Sachsen-Anhalt 12: 83-86. [available online at:]

Kiesewetter H. & Henker H. (2010) Die Etablierung neuer Taxa an Autobahnen und anderen Verkehrswegen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Bot. Rundbr. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 46: 33-42.

Kintzios S.E. (2000) Sage : The genus Salvia. Amsterdam, Harwood Academic: xix + 296 p. 

Lambinon J. & Verloove F. (avec coll. Delvosalle L., Toussaint B., Geerinck D., Hoste I., Van Rossum F., Cornier B., Schumacker R., Vanderpoorten A. & Vannerom H.) (2012) Nouvelle Flore de la Belgique, du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, du Nord de la France et des Régions voisines (Ptéridophytes et Spermatophytes). Sixième édition. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Meise: CXXXIX + 1195 p.

Li Q.-Q., Li M.-H., Yuan Q.-J., Cui Z.-H., Huang L.-Q. & Xiao P.-G. (2013), Phylogenetic relationships of Salvia (Lamiaceae) in China: Evidence from DNA sequence datasets. Journal of Systematics and Evolution 51: 184-195.

Marin P.D., Duletić S. & Petković B. (1996) Nutlet ornamentation in selected Salvia L. species (Lamiaceae). Flora Mediterranea 6: 203-211. [available online at:]

Reales A., Rivera D., Palazón J. A. & Obón C. (2004) Numerical taxonomy study of Salvia sect. Salvia (Labiatae). Bot. J. Linn. Soc. 145: 353-371.

Sell P. & Murrell G. (2009) Flora of Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. 3 Mimosaceae – Lentibulariaceae. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: XXVIII + 595 p.

Sutton J. (1999) The gardener's guide to growing Salvias. David & Charles, Devon: 160 p.

Torke B.M. (2000) A revision of Salvia sect. Ekmania (Lamiaceae). Brittonia 52: 265-302.

Turner B.L. (2008) Recension of Salvia sect. Farinaceae (Lamiaceae). Phytologia 90: 163-175. [available online at:]

Turner B.L. (2009) Recension of the Mexican species of section Uliginosae of Salvia (Lamiaceae). Phytologia 91: 440-466. [available online at:]

Turner B.L. (2011) Recension of the Mexican species of Salvia sect. Standleyana (Lamiaceae). Phytoneuron 23: 1-6. [available online at:]

Walker J.B. (2006) Systematics of the genus Salvia (Lamiaceae). University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison: 194 p.

Walker J.B. & Sytsma K.J. (2007) Staminal evolution in the genus Salvia (Lamiaceae): molecular phylogenetic evidence for multiple origins of the stamina lever. Annals of Botany 100: 375-391.

Walker J.B., Sytsma K.J., Treutlein J. & Wink M. (2004) Salvia (Lamiaceae) is not monophyletic: implications for the systematics, radiation, and ecological specializations of Salvia and tribe Mentheae. Am. J. Bot. 91(7): 1115-1125. [available online at:]

Wojciechowska B. (1958) Taxonomy, morphology and anatomy of fruits and seeds in the genus Salvia L. (in Polish). Monogr. Bot. 6: 3-56.

Wood J.R.I. (2007) The salvias (Lamiaceae) of Bolivia. Kew Bulletin 62: 177-221.

Wood J.R.I. & Harley R.M. (1989) The genus Salvia (Labiatae) in Colombia. Kew Bulletin 44: 211-278.

Yeo C.M. (1995) Salvias: 52 p.

Taxonomic name: 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith