How to tell the difference between a Salvia microphylla and a Salvia greggii,
While the flowers of both species are similar, the leaves of a S. greggii are narrow, smooth-edged no notches and with smooth mat surfaces, veins not evident, the stem well clothed, all branches come from a single stem. The leaves of S. microphylla, on the other hand, are larger, often more heart-shaped, veins easily seen, shiny surface and toothed edges.
Those of S.x jamensis are somewhere in between, often showing a long thinish leaf that looks like a greggii. This shows that the plant has a greggii dominant parent, often there will be one or two notches telling that it is a X. The leaf is larger and the surfaces are usually shiny..
microphylla lvs greggii leaves greggii x microphylla
Another distinguishing feature is the presence of a pair of papillae (2 tiny finger-like growths) inside the base of the corolla tube of S. microphylla, and generally in any offspring with this as a parent, but not present in S. greggii. Furthermore, most forms of S. microphylla are taller than those of S. greggii, ( S. greggii grows from one stem) and S. microphylla may have a tendency to spread from underground shoots almost to the point of nuisance value in the case of S. microphylla ‘Cyclamen’, ‘Pink Blush’ and ’Musk’, these are generally more robust forms.
Salvia microphylla varieties include:
S. microphylla var microphylla
S. microphylla var neurepia (syn Grahamii)
S. microphylla var wislizenii
Salvia ‘Baby Sage’
S. x jamensis
The earliest description of S. microphylla was made by a botanist named Kunth in the early 19th century. Then in 1939, Epling published a comprehensive work on the Salvia species of the new world in which he describes S. microphylla as displaying considerable variation, especially in the foliage, as though the species was in the process of evolving into possibly three geographical races. Adding to the confusion are the various other names that have been thrown into the ring: S. grahami in the USA, as S. microphylla was named by Bentham, S. neurepia by Fernald, and then S. microphylla var wislizenii, named by Gray, as well as a few more synonyms.
By going with the ruling that the first recorded name and description is the one that stays, we decided to stick with the findings of James Compton in a 1994 publication (1) whereby the species consists of type and two varieties as follows:
Salvia microphylla var microphylla
(the type): leaves generally less than 2.5cm long, ovate or elliptic, with an acute or obtuse apex. This plant grows to about 1.2m, becomes a bit woody and spreads readily. The red flowers, smaller than those of the variety below) show two small papillae in the base of the corolla. Flowers opposite, in pairs on elongating racemes 10 – 20cm long. The plants we have came from Judi Forrester of Otway Herbs, brought in to Australia by seed from NW Seeds, Arizona.
microphylla var microphylla
Salvia microphylla var neurepia :syn S. grahamii
The are leaves larger – up to 5cm long, elliptic, apex obtuse or acute. This is the form that was widely called Graham’s Sage in horticulture in the USA, and consequently here too, as it has been around in gardens for many decades.
microphylla var neurepia
Salvia microphylla var wislizenii :
this form has the most stable characters, deltoid, acuminate or acute leaves, narrow caudate bracts and a more congested inflorescence, with flowers more red/magenta than the others. This form does not spread and it tends to lose its leaves in winter in cold districts, but may keep it’s leaves in warmer suburbs. This is almost certainly synonymous with Salvia lemmonii, named in 1886 by Gray, who later decided it was a variety of S. microphylla after all. James Compton thinks it not significantly different enough to warrant its own specific rank, but that it should probably be elevated to subspecies status (Note: sub species rank applies to variations due to geography; in this case, the western Sierra Madre in Mexico and Arizona) The plants we have come from seed of S. lemmonii.
microphylla var wislizenii
Salvia ‘Baby Sage’.
More confusion here, because this appears on some internet sites as synonymous with S. microphylla. It appears to be a form of S. microphylla, from its leaf shape and the presence of pronounced papillae at the base of the corolla tube and its spreading habit, but everything about the plant is small. The leaves are generally less than 20mm long. The flowers are smaller (15mm), a watermelon red, with the bottom lip cupped, but not deeply indented. Our plants all originated from one bought from Phil Bear in Olinda in the early 1990s. This is a mystery one. Its smaller leaves are a good fit with the botanical name, “micro-phylla” (small leaves), but the original descriptions of the type species have larger leaves than this!
microphylla ‘Baby Sage’
Forms similar to ’Baby Sage’ that have appeared on the market that have clearly been derived from ‘Baby Sage’ as a parent are ‘Miss Scarlett’ – everything about this plant is similar, in size from the leaves to the flowers. What sets this apart is that ‘Miss Scarlett’ grows taller, has redder flowers and shows the typical striping down the stems – but when young and with out flowers, this hybrid can be mistaken for ’Baby Sage’
microphylla ‘Miss Scarlett’
There are so many cultivars available in Australia, involving S. microphylla as a parent: ‘Cyclamen’, ‘Cerise’, ‘Hot Lips’, Huntington’, ‘Margaret Arnold’, ‘Maraschino’, ‘Martine’, ‘Musk Pink’, ‘Pink Blush’, ‘Red’, ‘San Carlos Festival’, some of the ‘Heatwave’ series, but one more plant that deserves a mention is the rather different, is ‘Sweet Laura’ as this is a distinct bicoloured form – the list is endless. See page of greggii and microphylla hybrids here in Australia.
Compton, J. 1994: Mexican Salvias in Cultivation. The Plantsman, vol 15, pp200 – 205
Epling, C. 1939: A Revision of the Subgenus Calosphace, Beihefte 110, Fedde Repertorium Spec.Nov
Lumley, P. & Spencer, R. 1991: Plant Names: A guide to Botanical Nomenclature, RBG, Mmelbourne
Clebsch, B. 2003: A new Book of Salvias, pp 192 – 196
Froissart, C. 2008: La Connnaissance des Sauges, pp 185-186