Perovskia – A Gallant Plant of Transition
September can best be considered as a transitional month. Not only does it celebrate the seasonal transition from summer to autumn, but there are numerous September bloomers whose extended lengths of bloom ease the transition from summer to autumn. Russian Sage is one of these enduring performers that provide the garden with color continuity between the more transient bloomers of summer and autumn!
Russian Sage or Perovskia is neither a true Sage nor is it from Russia! Rather, Perovskia is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family and heralds from SW and Central Asia. What is of Russian decent is the origin of the name! Gregor Silitsch Karelin (1801-1872) was a Russian naturalist and plant collector, who explored the region around the Caspian Sea and south into Iran. Karelin initially served in the Russian artillery, so honoring the Imperial Russian General and statesman, Vasily Alekseevich Perovski (1794-1857), with this genus name was a fitting tribute. Of the nine existent species, Perovskia atriplicifolia is best suited for the Garden. The species epithet atriplicifolia refers to the resemblance of the leaves to those of Atriplex. This species was authored by George Bentham (1800-1884), a self-taught English botanist who served the better part of his career at Kew, the Royal Botanic Garden in England.
Perovskia atriplicifolia is native to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Tibet. Although often described as a perennial, Russian Sage is actually a small woody shrub. Growing upwards of 4’ tall during the summer, the stems often die-back to 12-24” during an average NJ winter. The stems are an attractive grayish white in color with the leaves positioned opposite one another along the length of the stem. The foliage is strongly serrate or toothed with a gray-green coloration, allowing the leaves to remain cooler and reducing desiccation from the hot, scorching sun. Both the stems and the leaves are highly aromatic when rubbed or broken – a desirable trait since this effectively reduces or eliminates deer browse! The stems typically branch along the upper ¼ of the stem, with each branch terminating in a 4-8” flowering raceme! The flowers are a bright, almost electric blue in color with each flowering raceme producing copious quantities of individual flowers from mid-July through October. In addition, the base or calyx of the flower is colored powder blue and remains ornamental after the flower fades, producing an awesome floral display! Typical to flowers in the Mint Family, the petals are fused and the flowers are oriented such that they give the appearance of having an upper and a lower lip. This floral structure is called labiate, meaning lipped. It also facilitates pollination, since the pollinator literally has a lipped landing pad upon which to perch!