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Flora Fact: Shaded by Cedars

Red-flowered cedar sage thrives under the branches of the allergy-inducing tree.

By Dyanne Fry Cortez

Some wildflowers need strong sunlight to put on a good display. Cedar sage is one that will bloom in the shade.

This red-flowered perennial prefers to grow in the dry-needle mulch that forms under ashe juniper trees. Its association with that tree, called “cedar” or “mountain cedar” by generations of Texas allergy sufferers, gave cedar sage its common name. The scientific name, Salvia roemeriana, honors 19th century naturalist Ferdinand von Roemer.

All salvias belong to the mint family. Cedar sage exhibits several characteristics that are typical of mints. It has square stems. Leaves appear in pairs, emerging from the same point on the stem and facing opposite directions. The bright red flowers have five petals fused into a two-lipped tube, with stamens and pistils extending beyond the upper lip. Flowers come in pairs, or sometimes in whorls of three or more. Cedar sage blooms most profusely in March, but will keep flowering into August if conditions are right.

Noseburn

When it isn’t in bloom, this sage can be identified by its heart- or kidney-shaped leaves. They’re usually a plain medium green, somewhere between the bright green of new grass and the dark green of ashe juniper foliage. Leaves range from a half-inch to 2 inches in diameter and have rounded teeth along the edges. Top and bottom surfaces have tiny hairs, making them slightly fuzzy to the touch. A crushed leaf yields a spicy scent, not as strong as some other mints, but subtly distinctive. Plants are 1 to 2 feet tall in spring and summer when they’re actively growing and flowering. They tend to die back to ground-hugging rosettes in winter.

In the United States, cedar sage is native only to Texas, occurring primarily on wooded, rocky outcrops of the Hill Country and points west. It also grows in the Mexican states of Coahuila and Nuevo León. Hiding under trees and shrubs, it isn’t always easy to find in the wild. It is, however, available in the nursery trade, and makes a fine addition to a native landscape.

Cedar sage will grow in different soil types if it’s planted in a well-drained location and gets shade at least half the day. Some people grow it in pots on the patio. It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Once established, it can survive dry conditions. And like other red-flowered salvias, cedar sage is attractive to hummingbirds and certain butterflies. With a little encouragement, this plant can provide color and nature-viewing opportunities all summer long.

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