Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blue, Who Are You?

At this time of year, I always welcome our native Blue Sage (Salvia azurea), with open arms.  It has self-sown itself from the prairie into my garden beds, and I strive to remember what it looks like as a seedling so that I can enjoy it in full August maturity.  That sky blue hue, as I've noted before, just fills up my soul with peace.

If only I could remember to cut it back in early July so that it would "bush up" and wouldn't get so tall and sprawlacious.  This photo of a Blue Sage clump, taken at the very front of my landscaping, shows how it eventually succumbs to gravity and sprawls from the raised bed to the buffalo grass below, brushing my legs or lawnmower each time I go by.  Blue sage also goes by the name of Pitcher sage, to honor Dr. Zina Pitcher, a U.S. Army surgeon and botanist.  A botanical alias, S. pitcheri, seems to be the same plant.   The roots can extend into the prairie 6-8 feet.

I received a blue surprise this afternoon, however, in the form of an unknown blue flower in the same bed.  This slightly-lighter-blue sage with fern-like leaves popped up in the center of the bed.  At present, it is about 3 foot high and wide and just starting to bloom.  I'm surprised that I didn't think it was a weed and pull it out earlier.  I do vaguely remember seeing the foliage last month, thinking it looked like ragweed but unsure, and making a conscious decision to let it bloom so that I could identify it.

Look closely at that finely cut foliage with what surely looks like a sage flower starting to bloom among it.  I quickly snatched these two iPhone photos today so that I could spread word of this wonder to the world.   But what sage is it?  I spent two hours tonight searching for other possible salvias in the region.  I searched the USDA plants database and came up empty for anything that should be in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, or Nebraska.  My local wildflower books didn't help.  In desperation, I broke off a piece of the plant and placed it on the scanner bed, to get a better look at the structure of the foliage (see below), and to upload it to others for identification.  I even assigned it a study name, Salvia azurea roushii, just in case it was a previously undescribed species and this was my designated fifteen minutes of fame.

In the end, however, I simply proved that the entire world should be happy that I became a veterinarian and not a botanist.  I simply spent two hours being an idiot.  Finally, examining the stem of the specimen I scanned, I realized that it didn't have the characteristic mint-like, squared-off stem that it should have as a sage.  So back I went outside, and on closer examination, found what should have been obvious to me at first glance.  This IS a Salvia azurea, growing up through the middle of an Ambrosia, probably Western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), my very common garden nemesis.   I let grow, just this one time, almost to maturity, and it rewarded me by wasting my evening.  Oh well, sometimes that's how the life of an amateur botanist goes.


  1. A rose by any other name ... it's still a lovely blue, whatever it's name !

  2. I too will let a few weeds grow because the flower they share with the world just works sometimes. Tks Dr. Roush for these musings.


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