General: Mint Family (Lamiaceae). White sage is a perennial sub-shrub less than 1 m tall. Leaves are generally 4-8 cm long, lanceolate, with a tapered base and minute teeth. The leaves are simple, with dense hairs and a distinctive fragrance. The inflorescence is many-flowered raceme with white to pale lavender blossoms. The fruits are light brown, shiny nutlets.
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
United States (North America)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103
- Munz, P. A. & D. D. Keck. 1959. Cal. Fl. 1–1681. University of California Press, Berkeley. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1717
- Munz, P. A. 1974. Fl. S. Calif. 1–1086. University of California Press, Berkeley. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1719
Global Range: California: south coast, peninsular and transverse ranges; also in Baja California, Mexico.
For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. White sage generally occurs at elevations below 1500 m. It is common on dry slopes in coastal-sage scrub, chaparral, and yellow pine forests. It occurs in the South Coast, Transverse Ranges, Peninsular Ranges, and the western edge of the Desert Province. Salvia apiana extends south from southern California to Baja California.
California Coastal Sage and Chaparral Habitat
This taxon is found in the California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregion, located along the southern coast of California and Pacific coast of Baja California, has extremely high levels of species diversity and endemism. The eight Channel Islands are also part of this ecoregion, as are Isla Guadalupe and Isla Cedros. The climate is Mediterranean, with cold wet winters and dry hot summers. Precipitation levels range between 150 to 500 millimeters per annum. Vegetation typically grows on soils made of volcanic rocks on the base of the San Pedro Martir Mountains and on soils of sedimentary origin closer to the coastal zone.
The California coastal sage and chaparral supports a diversity of habitats including montane conifer forests, Torrey pine woodland, cypress woodlands, southern walnut woodlands, oak woodlands, riparian woodlands, chamise chaparral, inland and coastal sage scrub, grasslands, vernal pools, and freshwater and salt marshes. Coastal sage scrub, chamise chaparral, and oak woodlands dominate much of the landscape. Coastal sage scrub is a diverse and globally rare habitat type occurring in coastal terraces and foothills at elevations below 1000 meters (m), interspersed with chamise chaparral, oak woodland, grasslands, and salt marsh. This habitat type is characterized by low, aromatic and drought-deciduous shrublands of Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), White Sage (Salvia apiana), Munz’s Sage (Salvia munzii), California Sage (Artemisia californica), California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), California Brittlebush (Encelia californica), Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia), and a diverse assemblage of other shrubs, herbaceous plants, cacti and succulents. Opuntia, Yucca, and Dudleya are some of the most common succulent genera, with the latter represented by several species endemic to the ecoregion.
The Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis), and Santa Catalina Shrew (Sorex willetti) are endemic mammals found in the ecoregion. Some of the specialist mammalian species found in the California sage and chaparral are: San Diego Pocket Mouse (Chaetodipus fallax), Merriam's Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys merriami), and Stephens's Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys stephensi).
The Rosy Boa (Charina trivirgata), California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra), and several relict salamanders are examples of the unusual and distinctive herpetofauna. Some endemic reptile species found in the ecoregion are: San Clemente Night Lizard (Xantusia riversiana), found only on the Channel Islands; Red-diamond Rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber), San Diego Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus abbotti), and Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii).
Nutall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) is endemic to the California sage and chaparral ecoregion, as are several endemic subspecies, which occur in the Channel Islands. Virtually all of the ecoregion is included in the California Endemic Bird Area. The California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica) is a further relict species found in the ecoregion. The coastal populations of the Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) are a notable occurrence of this bird, which is usually found in more arid regions.
- World Wildlife Fund & C. Michael Hogan. 2013."California coastal sage and chaparral". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- L. Arriaga et al., editors. La Reserva de la Biosfera "El Vizcaíno" en la Peninsula de Baja California. Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas de Baja California Sur, A.C. Baja California Sur, México.
Comments: Dry slopes in coastal-sage scrub, chaparral, and yellow-pine forest. Generally below 1500 m (CalFlora 2002).
Salvia apiana requires well-drained, fairly dry soils and full sun. Excessive watering of white sage, especially during summer months, is likely to kill the plant. White sage is particularly good for stabilizing or restoring disturbed or degraded areas. Bart O’Brien, Director of Horticulture, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Rick Hepting, Theatrum Botanicum, provided the following horticultural information:
Seeds: Salvia apiana propagates more easily from seed than from cuttings. Plant seeds in flats in an appropriate planting soil. Seeds may respond to light, so plant seeds at the soil surface or plant 1/8" to 1/4" in a well-drained soil mix. Immediately after planting, soak flats thoroughly, and then water sparingly as needed. Seeds germinate in 2-3 weeks at 20 to 30° C (68 to 86° F). Plant the seedlings into 2" or 4" pots after they grow 2-4 leaves beyond the cotyledons. Water as needed, but do not overwater. Salvia apiana plants grow rapidly; they are usually ready to outplant in 6 months to a year. It is best to outplant in the fall; don't plant in the summer.
Cuttings: Gather soft wood cuttings of young vegetative shoots before the plant has flowered. The rooting ability of these cuttings is enhanced by collection and preparation in the spring. Collect cuttings 3-4 inches long, and remove the lowest pair of leaves. Dipping the basal 1-2 inch portion of the cutting in rooting hormones enhances rooting. Bury the cuttings so that the lowest node is ½ inch under ground. Plants will root quickly if they are going to survive. If the cutting material is too hard, rooting may take a long time, or cuttings won't ever root. If the cutting material is too soft, it will rot. It takes some experience to collect the cuttings at the right time. Cuttings establish more readily if kept warm under the flats for weeks at 20 to 30° C (68 to 86° F). Once roots are established on cuttings, plant them in 2" or 4" pots. Pot them in bigger containers as the plants grow. Salvia apiana grows rapidly, so it is usually ready to out-plant in 6 months to a year in southern California (warmer climates). In northern California, out-plant when the plants are a year old because the winters are sometimes too severe for them. It is best to outplant in the fall; don't plant in the summer.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: At least 280 reports from California (CalFlora 2002) and also in Mexico.
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Common in southern California, also found in Baja California, Mexico. Some threats from development and from collection for use as a medicinal herb.
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Comments: Habitat loss due to development threatens this species. Increased pollution may also be a threat (pers. comm. R. Bittman 2002). A popular medicinal plant, used primarily in aromatherapy. Although fairly widely cultivated, it is also extensively harvested from the wild, and there is "some concern that the rate at which the plant grows might not be sufficient to keep up with the popular demand" (NPS 2002),
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
This species is readily available from native plant nurseries throughout its range. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Pruning leaves and branches to stimulate new growth.
Since this is a valued medicine plant, prayer, thanksgiving, and ceremony are important components of harvest and renewal.
Burning occurred during September and October after seeds ripened. Salvia species were burned for plant improvement by the Cupreño, Mountain Cahuilla, Northern Digueño, and Southern Digueño.
Seeds were planted from wild plants. A Diegueño woman reported her people always cleared a small spot near their dwelling to plant seeds of plants with greens, seeds, or roots.
Ownership of seed-gathering grounds promoted long term care and sustainable harvest practices.
Horticultural management includes avoiding over-watering seedlings and plants. Plants will mildew if they experience excessive humidity or too much shade. Aphids can be a problem for younger plants, particularly in the spring. As the plants grow older, they are fairly resistant to herbivores.
Traditional Resource Management: Traditional management of white sage includes the following:
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Ethnobotanic: White sage seeds were one component in pinole, which was a staple food of the Indians of the Pacific coast (Barrows 1977). Seeds were collected with a seed beater basket and flat basket, and were parched and ground into meal. The Cahuillas of southern California used this meal to create a mix with one part meal, three parts wheat flour, and a little sugar. This mixture was eaten dry, mixed with water to form gruel, or baked into little cakes or biscuits. The seeds were harvested in quantity and stored in baskets in the home. The tribes, north of Santa Barbara, kept small baskets of seeds and other foodstuffs on hand, with some stored for the winter. The Chumash and other California tribes also ate leaves and stems of white sage.
The Cahuilla, Costanoan, Diegeño, Kawaiisu, and Maidu tribes of California used white sage or chia seeds to clean and heal their eyes (Strike 1994). One method was to place a few Salvia seeds in their eyes at bedtime. During the night, the seeds would swell and become gelatinous. Moving around under the eyelids during sleep, the seeds collected any foreign substances on the eyeballs. In the morning the seeds were removed, leaving the eyes clear and free of contaminants. Cahuilla women drank an infusion of white sage roots after giving birth to remove the afterbirth and promote internal healing. White sage seeds were eaten by the Cahuilla to cure colds. The Diegueño used white sage tea for this purpose. Leaves of white sage were smoked, made into a tea, and used in sweathouses to cure colds. White sage leaves were also used by the Diegueño as a shampoo to clean their hair and to keep it from turning gray. Crushed leaves were rubbed on the body to eliminate body odor; this was often done by Cahuilla men before they went hunting. The smoke from burning white sage is used widely by many Native groups as part of their purification ceremonies. White sage is widely valued and cherished among many Indians and other cultures today, prized for its soft "feminine" qualities (Stevens, unpublished field notes, 1998).
Today the leaves and stems of Salvia apiana are gathered, dried, and used for smudging by many tribes around the country. The Chumash and other California Indian people are concerned about over-harvesting and disrespect of this plant for commercial purposes.
Sage tea will decrease sweating, salivation, milk secretions, and mucous secretions of the sinuses, throat, and lungs (Moore 1979). It is the best herbal treatment for decreasing lactation during weaning in either animals or humans. A cold cup of the tea is a good stomach tonic. The lukewarm tea is sufficiently bacteriostatic and astringent to make it useful for treating nearly all sore throats, first gargled and then drunk. The crushed leaves are made into a reliable uterine hemostatic tea, good for heavy menstruation but inadvisable for the new mother who plans to nurse.
Wildlife: White sage is an important browse plant for deer, antelope, elk, mountain sheep, and rabbits. The flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other insects. Small mammals, sparrows, grouse, and quail eat the seeds. Salvia apiana is a beautiful low maintenance ornamental plant.
Salvia apiana (White sage, bee sage, or sacred sage) is an evergreen perennial shrub that is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, found mainly in the coastal sage scrub habitat of Southern California and Baja California, on the western edges of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.
S. apiana is a shrub that reaches 1.3 to 1.5 metres (4.3 to 4.9 ft) tall and 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) wide. The whitish evergreen leaves have oils and resins that release a strong aroma when rubbed. The flowers are very attractive to bees, which is described by the specific epithet, apiana. Several 1 to 1.3 metres (3.3 to 4.3 ft) flower stalks, sometimes pinkish colored, grow above the foliage in the spring. Flowers are white to pale lavender.
Native American names
Distribution and habitat
White sage is a common plant that requires well-drained dry soil, full sun, and little water. The plant occurs on dry slopes in coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and yellow-pine forests of Southern California to Baja California at less than 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) elevation.
S. apiana is widely used by Native American groups on the Pacific coast of the United States. The seed was a main ingredient of pinole, a staple food. The Cahuilla harvested large quantities of the seed that was mixed with wheat flour and sugar for gruel or biscuits. The leaves and stems were eaten by the Chumash and other tribes. Several tribes used the seed for removing foreign objects from the eye, similar to the way that Clary sage seeds were used in Europe. A tea from the roots was used by the Cahuilla women for healing and strength after childbirth. The leaves are also burnt by many native American tribes, with the smoke used in different purification rituals.
A study performed at the University of Arizona in 1991 demonstrated that Salvia apiana has potential antibacterial properties against Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Candida brassicae.
- Medicinal plants of the American West
- California coastal sage and chaparral ecoregion
- Coastal sage scrub
- Clebsch, Betsy; Carol D. Barner (2003). The New Book of Salvias. Timber Press. pp. 34–36. ISBN 978-0-88192-560-9.
- Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center. "Salvia apiana Jepson". United States Department of Agriculture Plant Guide. USDA. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- Dentali, Steven John. (1991). "Potential antiinfective agents from Eriodictyon angustifolium Nutt. and Salvia apiana Jeps.". The University of Arizona Campus Repository.