Herb to Know: Pineapple Sage

It's a taste of the tropics for temperate gardeners. Just close your eyes and crush a leaf under your nose: the fragrance is unexpected and exotic.


| June/July 1993



pineapple sage salvia elegans


Photo by Eric Hunt/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

• Salvia elegans
Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
• Tender perennial

It's a taste of the tropics for temperate gardeners. Just close your eyes and crush a leaf under your nose: the fragrance is unexpected and exotic. What better garnish for a frosty piña colada or glass of iced tea than a fresh sprig of fruit-scented pine­apple sage? And beyond its olfactory bouquet, the autumn flowers that burst upon the scene with show-stopping drama deserve a place of prominence in the garden (or in a sunny window, if your growing season is short).

Description

An established plant of pineapple sage makes its appearance in spring as a mass of shoots arising from the crown. The stems are square, a trait common to members of the mint family. The leaves are opposite, 2 to 4 inches long, and slightly downy. The solid green color and neat arrangement of the foliage provide an attractive foil for the showy summer flowers of such herbs as calendula, nasturtium, and tansy, and they blend well with the gray-green leaves of garden sage (Salvia officinalis).

As the season progresses, the stems become somewhat woody at their base. Many lateral branches develop, giving the plant a dense, rounded form. Though the herb is generally listed as hardy to Zone 8 or 9, the roots of pineapple sage overwinter in my Zone 7 garden under 3 to 4 inches of winter mulch, producing a larger clump of shoots each year. By the end of summer, an established plant can reach a height of 5 feet with a nearly equal spread; by size alone, it commands a significant presence in the garden. Where the herb does not overwinter, heights of 3 to 4 feet are more likely.

As in other salvias, the flowers of pineapple sage are tubular with two distinct lips. To say that they are red doesn’t go far enough; they are intensely scarlet. Individual flowers, about an inch long, are borne at the tip of each stem in long clusters called verticillasters. The blossoms begin opening from the bottom of each cluster; the unopened buds at the top droop delicately as they wait their turn to unfold.

The lateness of flowering is a serious drawback for gardeners in cooler climates where early frost usually precludes the flower show, at least in the garden. However, if the entire plant is brought indoors before it is nipped by the cold, it will bloom for quite a while in a sunny room.

Late flowering can be a bonus to southern gardeners. Just as the season’s show seems to be winding down, pineapple sage explodes into brilliant bloom. In Zone 7, flowering begins at the end of September, continuing through October and sometimes even into November. Some years, the flower display is cut short abruptly by cold weather, but more often pineapple sage can be the indisputable centerpiece of the autumn herb garden.

richard stone
11/4/2012 1:14:23 AM

I have never taken the time to login somewhere and post a comment on what I read on the Internet, but I wanted to let you -- and everyone -- know just how well written I think this article is. Thank you for writing and posting it, truly. I learned everything I've ever needed to know about pineapple sage. Thank you again.


delana lollie
10/31/2012 8:17:14 PM

this answered every question I had about pineapple sage and MORE! very detailed info. thanks a billion






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