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Products > Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'
Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'
Image of Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae) (Mints)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Red
Bloomtime: Year-round
Fragrant Flowers: Yes
Height: 3-4 feet
Width: 4-5 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Summer Dry: Yes
Deer Tolerant: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 15-20 F
Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' (Bicolor Littleaf Sage) - A vigorous evergreen subshrub that grows to 3 to 4 feet tall by 5 feet wide with aromatic small ovate shaped deep green leaves that are soft and scalloped. From spring to late fall (really nearly year-round in coastal Southern California) appear the showy red and white bicolored flowers that are held in loose terminal racemes. Typically, the first flowers in the inflorescence are pure red with later flowers bicolored, with the white beginning at the base of the flower and increasing on the ensuing flowers primarily with the lower lip remaining red and the upper white until the progression of white increases up the lower lip with later flowers a pure white.

Plant in full to part sun (blooms best in full sun) in a well-drained soil and irrigate occasionally to very little once established in coastal gardens - in the UC Davis irrigation trials this plant performed admirably given medium levels of irrigation (40 to 60% of ETo) and this plant received their Happy Medium Award for its great performance in the warm central valley but in coastal areas it is considered to be a "drought tolerant" plant and can get by on less frequent irrigation. Like other Salvia microphylla (we grow another called Salvia microphylla 'Berzerkeley') it has proven evergreen to around 15F and resprouting from the ground from temperatures below this and some consider it cold hardy enough to be useful as a perennial in gardens down to USDA zone 6a. Timely occasional light shearing keep plants neater looking and can encourage inflorescences of different age, so that all flower color forms are displayed at the same time. This is a durable low maintenance and showy evergreen plant in the garden that is resistant to predation by deer and rabbits, and it has very interesting nectar-rich flowers are attractive to hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' was first introduced by the Strybing Arboretum (now San Francisco Botanic Garden in the year 2000. Richard Turner, then editor of Pacific Horticulture noted this interesting bicolored sage growing in the collection of potted plants of Alta Gracia, the housekeeper at his friend's home in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, whom he was visiting in November 1999. With their permission Turner took cuttings from this plant and upon return to San Francisco gave them to Don Mahoney, then horticulturist at Strybing Arboretum. Volunteers at the Strybing named the plant 'Hot Lips'. It was initially introduced as a cultivar of Salvia microphylla, but is also sometimes listed it as a cultivar of the closely related Salvia greggii or as a cultivar of the naturally occurring hybrid between these two species that is called Salvia jamensis.

There has been considerable debate about its parentage but we list it under the name is was first introduced and note that the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew database has it as Salvia jamensis 'Hot Lips' . Garden Design magazine named 'Hot Lips' (as a Salvia greggii cultivar) as one of the top one hundred plants of 2004 and it was a recipient of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society in 2015. 

This information about Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.