Salvia repens Burch. ex Benth.
Common names: creeping sage (Eng.); kruipsalie (Afr.); usikiki (Xho.)
As another member of the interesting sage family, this creeping sage with its aromatic leaves and abundance of flowers in summer, is a perennial worth growing in the garden and finding in the veld.
An easy and fast-growing herb, Salvia repens has rhizomes which spread to form small clumps of soft, hairy stems about 400 mm tall. Simple or branched, the stems are square ( typical of Salvia) and the leaves are formed opposite each other along the stem.
The leaves of S. repens are rough and hairy, with the veins more prominent on the bottom; the margins toothed and irregular and the leaves more crowded and bigger (30-100 x 8-45 mm) at the base of the stems.
The flowers are formed in clusters of 6-8. Formed close to the stem, the clusters of flowers are spaced closer together the nearer to the tip they are.
The small, two-lipped flowers (16-24 mm in length) vary in colour from pure white to pale blue, mauve and purple. The main flowering season is during the summer from about October to March. Bees are the main pollinators. The seeds are small nutlets formed within the protection of the calyx.
Distribution and habitat
Salvia repens is widespread throughout the summer rainfall, eastern part of South Africa. It is most commonly found in the grasslands of the highveld.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Salvia is derived from the Latin word salvere, which means to heal. The species name repens means creeping. There are more than 900 species of Salvia widely distributed throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the northern and southern hemisphere. In South Africa there are 27 indigenous species of Salvia, and four species from Europe and America that have naturalized.
Traditionally the leaves have been added to the bath for treating sores, and a decoction of the root has been used for both humans and cattle for treating stomachache and diarrhoea. Smoke from burning the plant can be used as a fumigant.
Growing Salvia repens
At Kirstenbosch, Salvia repens is much used as a perennial for summer colour in the garden. New plants are easy to propagate from seed, cuttings or division of the creeping rootstock or rhizomes. As part of the summer display, new plants are planted out at the end of spring, combined with Anchusa capensis ( blue forget-me-not), Lasiospermum bipinnatum ( white wild chamomile), Lobelia valida ( blue galjoenblom) and white Osteospermum jucundum.
S. repens also grows well in pots and forms a lovely groundcover on the edge of paths and beds with its bright green foliage and spikes of white flowers in summer. As with many fast-growing herbs, plants get untidy after 2-3 years and need to be pruned back hard or lifted and replanted. Tolerant of frost, S. repens requires full sun and good drainage. It will survive with little water but responds with lush growth to regular water especially in summer, and well-composted soil. With its hairy and aromatic leaves the plants do not have any major pest and no extra feeding other than compost is necessary for strong, healthy growth.
- Leistner, O.A. ( ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute; Pretoria.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Van Jaarsveld, E. J. 2002. South African sages. Veld & Flora 88: 102-104.
- Van Wyk, Braam & Malan, S. 1988. Field guide to the wild flowers of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria region. Struik, Cape Town.
- Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. Livingstone, London.
Leisl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer
PH: Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Flower colour: Blue, White, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun, Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average