Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' (Santa Barbara Sage) - A quick growing shrub that can reach 2-3 feet tall by 4-6 feet wide as it spreads outward at the base from its rootstock. It has young upright stems covered with woolly white hairs and narrow 3- to 4-inch-long leaves that are gray green above and whitish from dense short hairs below. The flowers are composed of velvety purple calyces with extended rose-lavender petals, emerging from congested vertices (rings of flowers) extending 6 to 12 inches at branch tips. These flowers rise well above the foliage and appear almost year-round along the coast; peak bloom period is spring through fall until first frost.
Plant in full sun to light shade and irrigate occasionally to infrequently – is drought tolerant and size can be controlled by judicious irrigation practices. Evergreen to 25° F but should prove root hardy the same as the species which tolerated 18° F in the winter 1990 freeze and could possibly go lower with mulching. Cut back annually in late winter to maintain best appearance and trim older flowers that weight stems down to encourage more upright growth and a tidier appearance. Useful in cut flower arrangements fresh and when dried retain flower and calyx colors.
Salvia leucantha inhabits a wide area in tropical and subtropical pine forests in central and eastern Mexico. The name Salvia comes from the Latin name used by Pliny for the plant and comes from the Latin word 'salvere' meaning "to save" in reference to the long-believed healing properties of several Sage species. The specific epithet comes from the Latin words 'leucos' meaning "white" and 'anthos' meaning flower, which is the color of the flowers of the typical species.
This is a compact form of the Mexican Sage found in the Santa Barbara garden of the late Kathiann Brown, who brought it to our attention at a Master Garden Conference in 1999. This cultivar is noted for its compact growth, about half the size of the species and the cultivar 'Midnight'. It also differs from typical Salvia leucantha in having flowers that are pale violet compared to the white flowers of the species and the darker colored flowers of 'Midnight and it has been noted that this cultivar more readily initiates new shoots from the base, even in containers. With a shorter more compact habit this cultivar is a vast improvement in this respect over the more rangy growth of other Mexican sage cultivars.
Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' received Plant Patent 12,949 on September 10, 2002 and was first released by our nursery and Native Sons Nursery in Arroyo Grande that same year. It was marketed worldwide by PlantHaven, Inc until this patent expired in May 2021. We also continue to grow the species Salvia leucantha, the dark purple flowered form Salvia leucantha 'Midnight' and the pink and white flowered Salvia leucantha Danielle’s Dream.
Information about Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' displayed on this page is based on our research about it conducted in our library and gathered from reliable online sources. We include observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well as how the crops have performed in containers in our own nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others about this plant when we feel it adds information and particularly welcome hearing from anyone who has any additional cultural recommendations that would aid others in growing it.