Sunday, June 2, 2013

May 2013 Plant of the Month - Lyre Leaf Salvia (Salvia lyrata)


I stumbled upon my first population of this plant while walking along a roadside in Mays Landing several years ago. The plants were not yet blooming and formed a thick carpet along the shoulder of the road. I had never seen it before and I was truly astonished. I picked a leaf off and pressed it in my notebook and wrote a brief description of what I saw. When I got home I checked my field guide only to find it wasn't listed. So it became my mystery plant.

A couple of weeks later I went to Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve for their Spring Native Plant sale. Here, lo and behold was my mystery plant offered for sale. I was ecstatic. I inquired about it to a staff member explaining how I had just happened upon it down in South Jersey. He told me the name was Lyre Leaf Salvia or Lyre Leaf Sage, (Salvia lyrata in Latin). So I bought one and brought it home.

The following year, my congregation held their first annual Native Plant Swap. I found the plant offered here and acquired one more. Since I had found the plant growing roadside close to where a stream passes under, I planted them in a moister area of my yard and they seemed very content. They didn't spread like a carpet as I had hoped, however. But then the following year, walking along a roadside in Egg Harbor TWP, I spotted another healthy population, got pictures and later a nice supply of seeds. They germinated well after a year of overwintering in trays outside. I now offer this plant for sale annually.

Lyre Leaf Salvia being in the mint family, has a typical square stem extending from a basal rosette of deeply lobed, hairy leaves. During the winter, the leaves are veined with dark purple which sometimes persists through spring. The flowers are pale blue, 1 inch long tubular in shape and
arranged in whorls around the stem. The flowers have 3 upper lobes and two lower. The lower lobes extend beyond the upper lobes, providing an excellent platform for bees to land on. Bloom time in the Mid-Atlantic is generally May through early June. It germinates easily from seed, making it an excellent native ground cover.

I have found by experience that growing this plant is easy in moist to medium soils. It seems to tolerate sun, shade and semi-shade equally as I have found it growing in all three conditions, but always near a stream or low area. I think it makes a great addition to rain gardens, rock gardens and woodland gardens and well as a must-have plant for pollinator gardens. It sometimes comes up in cracked and crevices like Wild Columbine, in fact, it makes for an excellent companion to Wild Columbine.

In the years since discovering my first population, I have discovered a handful more throughout Atlantic County, but not so many that I would describe it as a common roadside plant in the Pine Barrens. I had gone back to check on the original population I first discovered years back, only to find that the road had been repaved, the shoulder graded and grass was planted in its place. That made me sad. Hopefully some live roots still exist somewhere and will re-emerge.  I still see it as a treat to discover even more populations of Lyre Leaf Salvia as I walk along roadsides studying and discovering our fabulous native plants.