If you are a wildlife gardener, you realize there is no such thing as a perfect plant. That being said, I have found plants that exceed my expectations. One such plant is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).
My wife and I have grown scarlet sage in our home gardens and containers sitting on our deck for a number of years. As expected, it has done well in our gardens. However, its performance in containers has been truly remarkable.
During the spring of 2018, my wife scattered scarlet sage seeds in several large containers. In some instances, she planted it alone; in others, she mixed the seeds with black-eyed-Susans and zinnias.
As hoped, the plants did well and soon the bright red color of the plants’ blossoms could be seen from afar. In addition, we were pleased to find that with regular watering, the plants flourished throughout a dry, hot summer. Eventually after they finished blooming, they produced an abundance of seedpods, which soon dropped countless seeds onto the deck and into the containers where they were raised as well in nearby pots. Many of these seeds, in turn, sprouted and produced a crop of new plants that displayed blossoms from late summer into fall. In fact, the second blooming did not end until frost claimed them.
This spring as my wife was preparing to replant our container gardens she noticed that, in each pot that contained scarlet sage in 2018 sage plants were sprouting. In addition, young sage plants were appearing in pots adjacent to those dedicated solely to scarlet sage. It was obvious, that enough young seedlings were taking root to eliminate the need to replant them.
These third generation plants eventually bloomed profusely throughout what turned out to be one of the hottest on record. The plants’ blossoms were pleasing to the eye and were a source of nectar for wild pollinators such as butterflies (particularly cloudless sulphurs), bumblebees, and carpenter bees as well as a host of other wild pollinators. As was the case in 2018, the seeds daily attracted hungry beautiful American goldfinches.
As was the case last year, the majority of the seeds fell into the containers in which they were grown. Some weeks ago, they sprouted and are now producing blossoms. This bloom could not come at a better time as from now into fall nectar is more difficult for butterflies and others to find. Both migratory cloudless sulphurs and ruby-throated hummingbirds heavily feed on scarlet sage nectar at this time of year. In addition, I am sure that the monarchs that will be passing through my yard in a few weeks will seek out scarlet sage nectar as they did last year.
Oh, I should also mention more scarlet sage seedlings have emerged in each of our containers–this plant does not stop giving.
I will never know how many nectar feeders these plants have already fed this year, or the number of American goldfinches that dined on the scarlet sage’s tiny dark seeds. However, I am certain wildlife watching in our backyard would have paled without their presence.
Is the scarlet sage a perfect wildlife plant? No, but this hardy native has become a valued member of our backyard wild community.