Salvia elegans, pineapple sage
Pineapple sage, with its brilliant red flowers, scented leaves and neat shape, is a wonderful plant for the garden. The botanical name is Salvia elegans. I got my first pineapple sage plant as a scrawny slip from the $2 stand at a local nursery. I had never heard of it before, but the scent of the leaves made it seem like like a good addition to the herb garden. When it grew to a good-sized bush and was covered with red flowers through the first winter, I came to realise its true worth in the garden; not just a useful herb but a great ornamental plant. We still use the leaves and flowers in salads and drinks.
Salvia elegans is a low dense shrub. The leaves are pointed, around 8 cm long and densely covered in very short fine hairs. They are mid green and can have a red to purple tinge in sunny positions. The stems are purple, covered in fine hairs, and stay fairly th
in. The plants reach around 80 cm in my garden. Stems tend to spread out, so a plant can easily fill a metre radius, and plants tend to expand by layering and seeding.
Pineapple sage makes a fine single plant, but looks great as a line or group. Its dense growth makes it low maintenance, but it can be pruned back to about 1/3 in Summer after flowering to tidy it up.
It likes moist soil but will survive very dry conditions through Winter, and will go into dormancy until rain returns. I doubt it would like Summer drought though.
Pineapple sage makes an eye-catching display in the garden. Here it flowers right through the shorter day-length months. It has a brilliant flush of red flowers in Autumn, settles down to constant flowering through winter, although at a more subdued level, then ramps up again in Spring to another peak in October/November.
Pineapple sage propagation
Salvia elegans grows easily from cuttings. I have rooted them in water or sand, and they are quite hardy. Here, the stems often have aerial roots at the base, although this may not happen in drier climates. Stems with aerial roots make for instant cuttings, just strip off any leaves on the rooted section and cover with earth.
The transplants are very hardy in this climate. I planted some of the cuttings down in our ‘Midlevels’ garden, below the vegetable patch, and there they have to not only survive without further attention (they are beyond the watering range), but they also get weeded only occasionally.
I also find quite a few seedlings in Spring, scattered around the main clump. If they weren’t so easy to propagate from cuttings it would be a simple matter to collect seed to sow. I have found a pink flowered seedling, so there is some scope for variability.
Culinary use of sages is pretty much limited to the European herb sage Salvia officinalis, but a few of the american sages have great flavours and aromas. Pineapple sage leaves have a very attractive clear fragrance, which is compared to pineapple or tangerine. They are excellent in drinks or just to flavour iced water. The flowers have the same fragrance but also bear nectar, so are similarly good for drinks or for colouring salads.
Varieties of pineapple sage
When I started ordering salvias online from Unlimited Perennials I got two other varieties of pineapple sage. One is called Salvia elegans ‘Honey Melon’ and the other goes by the old species name of Salvia rutilans. It’s good to have a few of these cultivars, first just to compare them, but also to see which are best for our conditions here. The S. rutilans does seem to be just like my original S. elegans, but the ‘Honey Melon’ is different, with a purple tint to the leaves, a different flower colour, a different scent, and even different flowering times. I will post on ‘Honey Melon’ in the future.