Salvia farinacea, both violet-blue and white, used as an annual bedding plant in the Rose Garden.

Salvia farinacea. Notice the “mealy” or “floury” haze on the calyces and upper stems, which led to the epithet farinacea and to the common name mealy-cup sage.

cultivar in the Rose Garden being visited by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Article and photos by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

This year the Rose Garden and the Herb Garden each showcase several plants in the Salvia genus. The genus name Salvia comes from the Latin salveo meaning “to save or heal” and was applied as far back as the first century AD by Pliny the Elder, who was probably referring to Salvia officinalis. Over the centuries, Salvia officinalis has been touted as a medicine for many ailments to the degree that it was, at one time, called “sage the savior.”

The genus Salvia contains over one thousand species. Most prominent in the Rose Garden this year is Salvia farinacea. The specific epithet farinacea means “mealy” or “floury,” referring to white hairs on the calyces and upper stems, which are also responsible for plant’s common name: mealy-cup sage. Salvia species of culinary value are found in the Herb Garden at the back of the Rose Garden. Look for culinary sage: Salvia officinalis. The specific epithet officinalis means that this plant is the “official” herb, in the pharmacological sense. In addition, the Herb Garden displays cultivars of Salvia officinalis including Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ and a dwarf Salvia officinalis ‘Nana’. Also found in the Herb Garden is rosemary, Salvia rosmarinus: rosmarinus translating to “dew of the sea.” Rosemary’s name was Rosmarinus officinalis until 2017 when all the plants in the genus Rosmarinus were moved to the genus Salvia.

If you want to see how the Morris Arboretum Rose Garden has evolved from a rose-only garden to a garden with both roses and companion plants like Salvia, I highly recommend Paul Meyer’s photomontage “The Morris Arboretum Rose Garden: A Century of Evolution.” 

And when you visit the Rose Garden, do notice that Salvia flowers are pollinator magnets!

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and freelance writer with a special interest in plant names.

cultivar in the Rose Garden. Notice the caterpillar.

Salvia rosmarinus (rosemary) in the Herb Garden. Notice the small two-lipped bluish flowers.

Salvia officinalis
‘Purpurascens’ in the Herb Garden. Grown mainly for its ornamental coloration, it can be used in any recipe that calls for culinary sage (Salvia officinalis).