pineapple sage, heroic late bloomer

pineapple sageISMILE AND NOD WHEN GARDENERS FROM ELSEWHERE tout pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) as a hummingbird plant. “Elsewhere,” as in wherever the plant blooms before the hummingbirds have been long-gone for six weeks, meaning decidedly not here. Yes, after probably 10 frosts, my pineapple sage decided to bloom the last week or so, even with its foliage all frost-tinged, brave soul that it is, sole survivor among the tender garden plants used as “annuals” here in 2009.

Flowers or not, I grow one pineapple sage plant each year because of its Jack-in-the-Beanstalk quality. A 3-inch pot containing a rooted cutting in May forms a shrubby 3-by-4-foot creature by high summer, and oh, the fragrance of those leaves—scenes of a sunny Hawaiian pineapple plantation in every stroke of the hand.

pineapple sage 2
In areas where it does bloom before this anti-climactic moment (which it’s doing even with much of its foliage battered by the intermittent cold), pineapple sage and other late salvias are appreciated by migrating hummingbirds. (For summering ruby-throated hummingbirds here, Salvia van houttii, S. coccinea and some of the other reds are more to the point, along with many other tender things like verbena and nicotiana, and keep going long after the little birds move on.)

Pineapple sage is hardy to Zone 8ish, some say 9, but I say simply “not here.” Some gardeners even in Zone 7 (including this one who wrote a thorough article on it in “The Herb Companion”) report that they grow pineapple sage like a tender sub-shrub: that it’s root-hardy many years if heavily mulched, and then they cut it to near the base and let it regrow, not unlike I’d do with a Buddleia davidii.

Like its other mint family cousins, the plant’s foliage is edible, and I’ve known people to chop it into fruit salads, put it into teas, make jelly from it, and even blend it into smoothies and such. Do you grow Salvia elegans, and what do you do with yours (besides wait a very long time for it to start to bloom)?




31 comments
November 11, 2009

comments

  1. says

    I adore pineapple sage, as well as fruit sage (big furry leaves) and tangerine sage. I’m particularly fond of ‘Golden Delicious’ it has chartreuse foliage that looks great all summer. In my Zone 9 Seattle garden it is not as hardy as the others, so I treat it as an annual (sometimes it comes back though!). It looks good planted with purple shiso.

  2. Caroline Turben says

    Such a wonderful plant. I don’t use it for much in a culinary sense, but I do love to break off a leaf, crush it and enjoy the scent as I wander around doing other things.

    Thanks for such a great blog. I’ve spent the past 5 years gardening in a tropical climate and have recently returned to the northeast. You have reinspired my joy in northern gardens. There’s nothing better.

    • says

      Welcome, Caroline, and welcome back also to garden country. :) Thanks for your encouragement. Hope to see you soon again, helping us all plan for many adventures ahead.

  3. chigal says

    Ha-HA! Cuttings! Thanks for the reminder. I brought my pineapple sage in before our mid-Oct. frost date (we haven’t hit frost at all, yet, which is extremely unusual) and it’s been languishing in my living room. I think I’ll do both of your tips: root cuttings and keep the stump going. I won’t have room for all of those in the spring, but I think a row of pineapple sage shrubs would be much better in that spot where I usually throw a hodgepodge of orphans (extra tomato seedlings, bonus flower seed packets, etc.).

    Very mild, search-for-it flavor when I cooked it with chicken, but I’ll have to try drying some and see if it kicks up like oregano.

  4. Joan says

    I have never grown this plant, but I just had to comment anyway because I love your photos. The red and green is gorgeous.

  5. Doug says

    Here in western Maryland I have finally taken care of the tropicals. I dug up the brugmansias, now potted and in the garage, they were still blooming with just a bit of leaf frost damage. Then, cutting down the bannana grove, from 2 grandmothers 3 years ago, I ended up with a forest of 12, 6ft/8ft, plants. Grandmas did not make it through last winter, under 3 feet of mulch, 4 layers of cardboard, and another 3 feet of mulch. Maybe grandma was too old. Well, the kids and grandkids are asleep in their mulch pile. I hope they come back next April.

  6. Fred from Loudonville, NY says

    Margaret, from your photo, I can see that the pineapple sage is close to the front of your house. If I had it, and could not see it from the house, I would want to pick some, and bring it in, to enjoy for the whole day, as compared to the fleeting moment that you look at it while out in your garden. BUT, you being a plant observer, might be more into seeing how long it lasts in your landscape, before extreme weather takes it away.

  7. says

    Margaret, Isn’t it marvelous to see something that brilliant blooming this time of year? Yours is delicious. SOme of the late blooming salvias that have been companions in my large outdoor pots, have reappeared after spending the WInter in our garage. Those very pots are waiting to be cleaned up outside the garage doors, but oh it is not such a nice day to attend to that dreaded chore! Thank you for adding brilliance to the day with your photos (and wisdoms!)

  8. Nancy WDM Iowa Zone5a says

    It is beautiful when mixed in a bouquet with another late bloomer..mexican sage (salvia leucantha).
    I grew Pineapple sage in TX and FL and it was very lush.
    But now I am lucky to see the blooms more than a week or so before a frost or freeze kills them here in IA. But I put
    them in every spring anyway.

  9. says

    Aha! So THAT’s what that gorgeous thing is. I do remember buying that innocent little 3″ pot of greenery at an herb sale last spring – having no idea it would become such a show-stopper. I’d been thinking it was some kind of volunteer … I’ll never be without it again.

  10. Suzanne says

    I grew Pineapple Sage for the first time this year and it never bloomed until about mid to late October here in CT. I had given up on it completely (for its flowers that is). I don’t know if the late bloom is typical, but I’m not sure I’ll grow it again b/c it took up a bit too much space in my 1/4 acre garden. Love, love the scent though.

  11. Eve Mauger says

    Hi Margaret,

    Love your website that I discovered this past summer – devour it as soon as it appears in my mailbox! I also love pineapple sage with its surprising late flowering show. Couldn’t believe how it grew from one tiny 3″ pot into a huge shrub. Watch out for those bears!

    • says

      Welcome, Eve. Isn’t it a great plant? And yes, I will watch out for the bears…yikes! I am not very big, so I doubt I would fare well against them (probably I’d look like a mere appetizer). :) See you soon again, I hope.

  12. Linda P says

    I hope you keep writing your blog all winter long, I will miss it terribly otherwise!
    That is a gorgeous color I must say! I don’t have that salvia but I love them and have many types. i use some varieties underplanting roses which I might add are blooming better than in June now! I picked a large bouquet this week which is really unbelievable when you think it’s mid November and I am 5B. Seems they are blooming later and later each year.
    If I had continued cutting them down in September and October I would have yet a fuller flush.. I wonder if I should extend the hardening off period next year? I have always stopped cutting end of Auguest. Any advise?

  13. PENELOPEBIANCHI says

    Hi! I LOVE YOUR BLOG!
    I LIVE IN SANTA BARBARA CALIFORNIA!
    EVERYTHING GROWS HERE ALL YEAR LONG. IT IS KIND OF EMBARRASSING.
    (I MET CZ GUEST “KLUNK! WHEN I DROP NAMES; I ALWAYS HAVE TO SAY THAT!) AT THE ARBORETUM IN ARCADIA (NEXT TO PASADENA WHERE I LIVED UNTIL 12 YEARS AGO)

    AND SHE SAID….”HOW DO YOU PEOPLE IN CALIFORNIA STAY BUSY? NO HAY ON TOP OF THE ….AND SO ON.” LOVELY WOMAN.

    I AM A WILDLIFE ENTHUSIAST…..I PLANTED OUR GARDEN TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS, ALL KINDS OF BIRDS……AND ……..BEARS!!

    I COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP!

    WE HAD TWO TERRIFYING AND DESTRUCTIVE FIRES HERE IN THE LAST YEAR. I LIVE NEXT TO A 45 ACRE WILDLIFE PRESERVE ON ONE SIDE. A 50 ACRE ESTATE ON TWO SIDES……..AND A HOUSE ON ONE SIDE. A BLACK BEAR CAME DOWN FROM THE LAST FIRE. IT (WE DON’T KNOW IF IT IS A FEMALE OR A MALE) WAS SPOTTED RIGHT NEAR OUR HOUSE……I AM PRETTY SURE IT IS IN THE NATURE PRESERVE.

    I AM WRITING YOU TO ASK YOU…..WHAT DO THEY LIKE?

    I WOULD GIVE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO HAVE A BEAR IN MY GARDEN!! ( WE ARE A REGISTERED BACKYARD HABITAT BY THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION!!) THEY TOLD ME WHAT TO PLANT….TO ATTRACT ALL KINDS OF BIRDS. NOT BEARS.

    PENELOPE

    PS THE 50 ACRE PLACE ON TWO SIDES (WE HAVE A BIT OVER 2 BUT ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF 90)
    WAS BOUGHT AFTER WE BUILT OUR HOUSE…..12 YEARS AGO….by Oprah. I know. How lucky can anyone get?

    I am serious about the bear. It is a black bear. They are not harmful to people…..and one was killed in Ojai……(near here) for no reason a few weeks ago.
    pps that plant with the red flowers……looks a lot like something called a “California fuschia” we have a lot of. and millions of hummingbirds.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE YOUR BLOG!!

  14. says

    I planted a mix of herbs this year in a rock garden border near a raised bed of lavender and scottish heath. I picked up two pineapple sages on an impulse, having not really looked into them specifically. So I was surprised at how large they both grew, delighted by the smell, and then when they bloomed in early September and kept blooming all the way to the last few days, I was really surprised. But happy.

  15. Fred from Loudonville, NY says

    Penelope Bianchi,….. I too have met C Z Guest. It was at a black tie gala, at the Breakers, a Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, Ri. It was a Coaching Gala (stage coaches pulled by four horses, most coaches from America, or England). It was the summer before she died. I know two ladies that come to Saratogs Springs for the racing season, that she knew, so I had something to talk to her about. I also had my picture taken with her. Being in her early 80’s and having battled cancer, she was still a energetic, vibrant, lively woman.

  16. Sally says

    I do grow pineapple sage, and it is a late bloomer, darn it all. But here in Seattle, we have Anna’s hummingbirds all year around, so they are still out feeding on the ps (that is, when the driving rain permits…;-))). I’ve got four large plants in full bloom now. I do wish they would bloom throughout the summer as well.

    • says

      Welcome, Sally, from the mecca of gardening. I know you have those lovely Annas there – jealous! You have had such wacky weather this last year, from last winter’s cold and snows through a blistering, dry summer…I hope the year ahead is kinder to you and your gardens. See you soon, I hope.

  17. says

    A new favorite of mine! I planted it for the first time this spring in my tiny veggie garden. I placed it next to my other sage not knowing it would grow to be taller then I am. A great surprise!

  18. says

    How funny you are lamenting about the late-blooming pineapple sage. I had just blogged/complained about mine as well a few weeks ago. I had to bring mine into the garage to see it bloom before the frost. Of course there are no hummingbirds in the garage! But at least I set it on my husband’s red Sears tool chest that matched its flowers.

  19. Darrel Jacobs says

    I planted my pineapple sage in March. It wasnt doing well. I moved it into better soil and more sun. Its now three feet tall red flowers but no huming birds.

    • says

      Welcome, Darrel. I think the sun’s the key with that one…and I bet the hummingbirds find it in time. Do you have them around the garden anywhere? I have my fingers crossed! See you soon.

  20. says

    Hi Margaret,

    I have planted salvia coccinea which I understand is the same as pineapple sage. I have arrived at your website looking to understand whether or not the leaves are edible! We live in Dubai in United Arab Emirates and we love pesto. My wife Ann Marie believes that isalvia coccinea seems like a form of basil and has already made her pesto with fabulous Lebanese pine nuts. It loves the heat and sandy soil here…..I see from above you suggest it’s edible, but I haven’t found much else on other websites except rather dubious smoking pages!! Any comment would be welcome. Regards.

    • says

      Welcome, Kevin, from faraway lands.

      Salvia coccinea is a cousin of pineapple sage, which is botanically called Salvia elegans.

      You will notice the slight difference in the way the flowers (though red in both cases) are shaped if you click on those green links I just typed. Or do a Google image search and compare the two — just slightly different, with the coocinea having more of a lip hanging down, and the pineapple more tubular over all. Pineapple sage is definitely delicious and eaten in many ways; I don’t see any recommendations or references re: eating S. coccinea (even this profile by Univ. Texas doesn’t mention that).

      The pineapple sage is about twice as big in all ways — a really large plant, bigger leaves, even somewhat longer blooms.

      Does that help? So I am hoping you have pineapple sage…which makes a lovely pesto.

  21. says

    I live in the Pacific Northwest and tried pineapple sage for the first time this year. The fragrance of the leaves is amazing and I thought it would be super fun for my kids…anyhow, 3-4 months since I planted it and it is still so small. Your article gives me hope that it may sprout up in these last few weeks of summer! Hope so…

    If it does, our rufous and anna’s hummingbirds might still be around to enjoy it. If not, then the kids and I will do our part to admire it wholeheartedly.

    • says

      Hi, Liz. I fed mine this year with seaweed/fish emulsion fertilizer, and it seemed to like it. I think it probably likes heat, too, and I wonder if you have enough?

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