Field Identification Tips for the Sages of Texas

Sages are very commonly misidentified, especially for beginning iNatters, so here are a few tips I've learned for some of the Salvia species:

Last updated: 16 April 2022

Salvia engelmannii (Engelmann's Sage) and Salvia texana (Texas Sage)
While Engelmann's Sage tends to be a pale lavender color, and Texas Sage a deeper shade of blue, the color of the blooms isn't a reliable way to distinguish the two.

The easiest way I distinguish these two is by the upper corolla lobe.

Engelmann's Sage is pilose (covered in fine, soft hairs) on the upper corolla lobe:

Image by @desertnaturalist on iNaturalist

This is absent for Texas Sage:

Image by @jbecky on iNaturalist

Once you notice this, it's quite hard to miss. Credit to @alex_abair for first pointing this out in an observation I found
Also note how the flower stalk on Texas Sage looks less dense (personally I'd call it a willowy look) than Engelmann's Sage.

Another possible distinguishing trait is the forked stigma of the flowers, the sort-of "snake's tongue" that sticks out of the upper corolla lobe. I've noticed that on Engelmann's Sage, the stigma sticks quite far out of the rest of the corolla (visible in the image, on the flower on the right). On Texas Sage, the stigma is less prominent, or absent from view.

Salvia farinacea (Mealy Blue Sage)
Mealy Blue Sage is distinct in this area since the pedicel (the flower stalk) and the calyx share the blue of the flowers. Usually it'll range from a lighter blue to a greyish color. There will usually be no sign of green when the flowers are in bloom. Often the entire flower stalk will be a purplish blue. It will also appear powdery or "mealy" due to hairs on the calyces.

Image by @arnanthescout via iNaturalist

Salvia roemeriana (Cedar Sage), Salvia coccinea (Tropical Sage), and Salvia greggii (Autumn Sage)

These are another three plants that are often mixed up. The main difference is in the leaves.
The leaves of Cedar Sage are distinctly rounded, cordate to reniform (kidney-shaped) with a scalloped/crenate edge.

Image by @samwilhelm on iNaturalist
It also has a long petiole, almost as long as the length of the leaf:

Those of Tropical Sage are more triangular, mint-like, ovate to deltoid in shape, and more pointed at the tip (an acute apex, as a botanist would say).

*Image by @himuegge on iNaturalist

Often the leaves of Cedar Sage are hairy/hirsute and can look quite crinkled, though this can vary between plants. As far as I know, Tropical Sage leaves are glabrous.

Autumn Sage has small leaves, obovate to eliptic in shape, no larger than the corollas. It often planted as a cultivated plant.

I guess I'll call this finished. Most of the other sages I find distinct and easier to identify, but I could try to add them all in.
If you have any other useful identification information be sure to tell me.
Posted on July 01, 2021 08:13 PM by arnanthescout arnanthescout


Thanks for the info. I’ve been having trouble with that. Please continue!

Posted by jbecky almost 2 years ago (Flag)

That upper corolla pubescence is super reliable! It's not in any of the keys I've read, but it definitely should be.

Posted by alex_abair almost 2 years ago (Flag)

That's one of the great things about iNaturalist! I read a blog post some time ago that pointed out that a lot of field identification characteristics are "rarely referenced in the scientific literature." There is so much that can still be discovered.

Posted by arnanthescout almost 2 years ago (Flag)

Great idea and useful guide! Looking forward to future iterations :)

Posted by samwilhelm almost 2 years ago (Flag)

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