Seed catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox lately, and as I flip pages and plan my gardens for the year, I’m always especially on the lookout for new types of salvia I can add to my butterfly garden. Most types of salvia, commonly known as sages, are wonderful nectar flowers for butterflies (some will draw hummingbirds too), and many are easy to start from seed.
Below are some species and varieties to look for. This list is by no means comprehensive – in fact, it’s not even close. But it does include some of the more commonly-available species, and those I know to be great butterfly nectar plants. Take a look at the list below, and if I missed your favorite, tell us about it in the comments!
- Salvia coccinea - Tropical Sage, Scarlet Sage: Native to the eastern U.S. from the Carolinas south. Plant in zones 4 – 10 (zones 6 – 10 will overwinter or re-seed). Full to part sun, drought-tolerant. 2-3 feet tall. Available in red, white, and pink.
- Salvia elegans - Pineapple Sage: Native to high elevations in Central America. Plant in zones 4 – 11 (zones 8 – 11 will overwinter). Full sun, moderate water needs. 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Showy red flowers in from late summer through first frost, with pineapple-scented foliage.
- Grows best from tip-cuttings rather than seed. Order plants from White Flower Farm or check your local nursery.
- Salvia greggii - Autumn Sage: Native to Southwest Texas through Mexico. Plant in zones 6 – 11. Full sun. Very heat and drought-tolerant. Evergreen in milder climates. 4 feet tall. Wide variety of colors available, including red, pink, and white.
- Try ‘Wild Thing’ from High Country Gardens
- Salvia nemorosa - Woodland Sage: Native to Europe and Asia. Plant in zones 3 – 9 (grows best in cooler seasons in the Deep South). Full sun, average water. 1 – 3 feet tall. Blue or pink blooms.
- Salvia farinacea – Mealycup Sage: Native to Mexico and Texas. Plant in zones 5 – 10 (will overwinter or re-seed in zones 8 – 11). Full sun to part shade in very hot climates. Somewhat drought-tolerant. 2 – 4 feet. Available in blue, white, and blue/white mix.
- Salvia patens - Gentian Sage: Native to Mexico. Plant in zones 5 – 9. Full sun to part shade, average water needs. 2 feet tall. Deep blue blooms.
- Try ‘Blue Angel’ from Park Seed
- Salvia gauranitica - Black and Blue Sage, Brazilian Sage: Native to South America. Plant in zones 4 – 10 (zones 8 – 10 will overwinter). Full sun, moderate water needs. 2 – 4 feet tall.
- Try ‘Black and Blue’, available as potted plants from Burpee
What about Salvia splendens? One of the more common species you’ll find in nurseries and seed catalogs is Salvia splendens. It comes in an incredibly wide variety of colors, and is frequently sold as a butterfly attractant. While this may be true in some cases, the truth is that most varieties have been so extensively hybridized for color and growth habit that their nectar value is greatly diminished. The upshot? Salvia splendens is a wonderful ornamental plant, and if you find a variety that attracts butterflies, it’s like icing on the cake, but other species may be better in butterfly gardens.
Now it’s your turn – what salvia species and varieties draw butterflies to your garden?