Boerne Chapter

Dry Year or Wet Year – Mealy Blue Sage is NICE!

Author: Bill Ward

This dry, dry year has given our neck of the woods the scraggliest little bluebonnet patches we’ve have in a long time. But here and there are fields of blue that almost compensate for the failed bluebonnet crop. These are blue patches of the tough little mealy sage (Salvia farinacea).

Landscape photo of a field of wildflowers, hills rise above the horizon in the background
Field of mealy sage near Tarpley. (photo by Bill Ward)

Mealy sage is the Operation NICE! (Natives Instead of the Common Exotics!) selection for May. This is a long-blooming, drought-tolerant, deer-resistant perennial, widely available in nurseries. A perfect NICE! plant.

This blue-flowering sage usually is no more than three high. It grows in clumps of several stems with medium-green lance-shaped leaves. Whorls of violet-blue blooms are borne on the end of stalks that rise above the leafy part. The flowers appear to be dusted with fine white powder. Actually, this appearance comes from a dense cover of matlike wooly hairs tinged with white, blue, or violet. The common name “mealy” and the scientific name “farinacea” are derived from this farinose (mealy) look of the flowers.

Stalks of purple flowers
“Henry Duelberg” variety of mealy sage. (photo by Bill Ward)

Local nurseries may have cultivars of Salvia farinacea that are darker-blue or even white. One robust good-bloomer recently available is a selection called “Henry Duelberg.” Mealy sage starts blooming in April and blooms until a winter freeze. Hot, arid summers bring a decline in flowering, but revived blossoming comes back with fall weather.

Mealy sage is widespread across the Hill Country. It grows in well-drained, sunny areas in limestone soils. Undoubtedly it is drought- and cold-tolerant in the wild. Once established in a home landscape, it requires minimal care. Several people in my neighborhood use mealy sage as a border plant. Reportedly, it is a good plant for pot gardens.

The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas provides free planting and care instructions for mealy sage at nurseries participating in Operation NICE! (Barkley’s Nursery Center, Hill Country African Violets and Nursery, and Maldonado Landscape and Nursery).

What’s blooming this month?

Despite the extremely dry soils in our part of the Hill Country, our backyard has started to bloom during April, more every day. Today’s flowers include:

Close up of a cluster of purple flowers
Closeup of flower of “Henry Duelberg” mealy sage. (photo by Bill Ward)

Blue/purple: mealy sage, prairie verbena, bluecurl, bluebonnets, Engelmann salvia, Lindheimer morning glory, Texas vervain, bluet, wine cup, purple milkweed vine, fox-glove penstemon, and Salvia guaranitica (South American).

Yellow: Engelmann daisy, Texas green-eyes, huisache daisy, zexmenia, slender-stem bitterweed, greenthread, damianita, parralena, two-leaf senna, columbine, false nightshade, prickly pear, and straggler daisy.

Orange: scarlett pimpernel and lantana.

Red: cedar sage, scarlet penstemon, Salvia greggii, and Indian pink (East Texas).

Pink: evening primrose, prairie phlox, purple coneflower, limestone guara, fox-glove penstemon, and orchid tree (northeastern Mexico).

White: blackfoot daisy, Anacacho orchid tree, antelope-horns milkweed, fox-glove penstemon, white honeysuckle (gaura), black cherry, crow poison, Salvia greggii, ox-eye daisy, and water lily.

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About the Region

New Braunfels, the location of our Fall 2024 Symposium, straddles both the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Interstate 35 divides the city of New Braunfels; its path through the city closely parallels the boundary of these two ecoregions, with the Edwards Plateau on the west side and the Blackland Prairies region to the east. The Edwards Plateau area is also called the Hill Country; however, this general term covers a much larger area extending farther north. Spring-fed creeks are found throughout the region; deep limestone canyons, rivers, and lakes (reservoirs) are common. Ashe juniper is perhaps the most common woody species found throughout the region. Additional woody species include various species of oak, with live oak (Quercus fusiformis) being the most common. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) border waterways. This area is well known for its spring wildflower displays, though they may be viewed in spring, late summer, and fall, as well. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, average annual rainfall in the Edwards Plateau ranges from 15 to 34 inches.

The Blackland Prairie extends from the Red River south to San Antonio, bordered on the west by the Edwards Plateau and the Cross Timbers, and on the east by the Post Oak Savannah. Annual rainfall averages 30 to 40 inches, with higher averages to the east. This region is dominated by prairie species. The most common grass species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in the uplands and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the riparian areas and drainages. Common herbaceous flowering plants include salvias, penstemons, and silphiums. This area has suffered greatly from overgrazing and agricultural use. Few intact areas remain, though many of the plants can be found along county roadsides throughout the region.

Our four host chapters (New Braunfels, Lindheimer, Guadalupe, and the Hill Country chapters) are located in one or both of the ecoregions above. However, the eastern portion of Guadalupe County also falls within the Post Oak Savanna ecoregion. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with higher averages to the east. A wide variety of hardwood trees are found, including several species of oaks, elms, and in the Bastrop area, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Grasses and forbs dominate in the open savannas, with most common grass being little bluestem. Ranching, agriculture, and fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on the once-open savannas.

Source: Wildflowers of Texas by Michael Eason