If I see a plant I don’t know in California, there’s a 50/50 chance it’s a Salvia.
I took a walk through McClellan Nature Reserve in Cupertino last weekend, and saw this plant:
The seed pods are quite interesting to me, and it has a smell that reminds me of sunscreen….
What is it?
If you guessed Salvia, you’d be correct! My best guess is that it is a Salvia leucophylla, aka purple sage bush
Salvia leucophylla is named for the white colored (/grayish-silvery) leaves (leuco– or leuko– is white). There’s actually a word to describe those whitish fuzzy-looking leaves: tomentose. Purple sage is very aromatic and flowers from early spring through early summer with light purple flowers that provide food for pollinators (bees and hummingbirds).
Salvia leucophylla is one of many native California sages, including White sage (Salvia apiana, which is what smudge sticks are made out of), Black sage (Salvia mellifera), Sweet or Musk sage (Salvia clevelandii)… and on and on. These sages are found on dry slopes along the coast. They like a lot of sun, and are very drought tolerant – perfect for California! They also burn very easily, though…. yikes.
I learned a little about the genus Salvia back when I learned about Salvia amistad, which is not a California native. This website goes into much more detail about California native sages, in particular, with plenty of photos. The flowering heads are definitely distinctive. I find the bushes, overall, to be a bit too scraggly for my tastes, but at least I’ll be able to recognize them the next time I see them.