I'm waiting for hummingbirds to discover my tropical sage plants.
Last fall, my daughter removed a large patch of the pretty scarlet-colored flowers from one of her garden beds, but before tossing the lot into her compost pile she put a couple aside for me. I accepted her gift gratefully and placed the small starts in my kitchen garden, where I hoped their bright red blooms would attract butterflies, bees and especially hummingbirds. Because I spend considerable time in the kitchen preparing food and cleaning up afterward, I like to reward myself with pretty views to gaze upon from the kitchen window.
In the months since, the flower stalks have grown tall, and the plants have sprawled broadly. Unlike Amber's yard, where garden space is limited, my yard has plenty of room for plants to expand — if they're the right plants. Rather than installing more exotics that look lovely but turn out to be incredibly hard to control or eradicate, I'm on the lookout for Florida-friendly additions that provide beauty and attract wildlife without the need for much attention. Tropical sage fits the bill. I haven't noticed any hummingbirds yet, but I'm sure their arrival is just a matter of time.
Although its botanic name is Salvia coccinea, tropical sage is a popular Southern plant with many monikers. Common names include Texas sage, scarlet sage, blood sage, hummingbird sage and red salvia. Salvias are the largest genus of the mint family, and tropical sage (like all mints) has square stems, aromatic leaves and small flowers displayed in a whorl around upright stems. The tubular red flowers, which attract so much attention from nectar-seeking wildlife, are about an inch long and seem perfectly shaped to accommodate a hummingbird's long, pointy bill.
I've planted my tropical sage in a flowerbed where I'm also growing a purple sage, orange cosmos and a few red, pink and white pentas. Over time, I've enhanced the soil in that garden with compost, peat and lavish amounts of grass-clipping mulch. Although tropical sage abides such soil amendments, it can also prosper in less-enhanced settings. As long as it gets a few hours of shade every day, it will grow in dry, sandy spots as well as rich loam.
The blooms, which continue all year except during freezes, are more profuse if the plants receive at least some irrigation. However, even when ignored completely, tropical sage will survive. It just won't thrive as it will when given a little attention.
From a lazy gardener's point of view (mine!), one of tropical sage's many assets is its ability to self-seed. With her limited garden space, my daughter didn't find this characteristic as endearing as I do. In her yard, Salvia coccinea volunteers kept popping up and taking over spots where she would have preferred to grow vegetables and other herbs. Although Amber appreciated seeing all the fluttering wildlife the plants attracted, the self-seeding Florida wildflowers simply took up too much valuable real estate.
Unlike Amber, I'm ready for Florida-friendly, wildlife-attracting, low-maintenance plants such as tropical sage to overtake my garden real estate. I wouldn't mind in the least if the two plants my daughter gave me blazed a scarlet path beyond the garden and into other planting beds. I wouldn't even object if they continued spreading their way around the lake.
One of these days, a hummingbird will discover the tubular red blooms in my kitchen garden. When it does, the tiny bird will be happy to have found a new source of life-sustaining nectar. I'll be happy, too, because we'll both be nourished — one by nectar, the other by beauty.
Sherry Boas can be reached at simplyliving@
beautifulbamboo.com. Her columns can be found online at OrlandoSentinel.com/lake.