Tim EntwisleFrom darkest Peru to Melbourne

The little black salvia flower is very Melbourne. Dressed in black*, restrained and…cultivated (well it’s been planted in a garden). Salvia discolor is its name and it has just come into flower outside our living room window. I hadn’t noticed it until Lynda pointed out that a fairly nondescript plant with grey-green leaves had sprung black flowers.

Salvia discolor

It reputedly flowers late summer and early autumn so it is actually right on cue. It’s also described as drought resistant, which explains why it’s growing outside our lounge room (the garden around our temporary abode has been planted out to survive the toughest of Melbourne summers).

Salvia discolor

Andean Silver-leaf Sage is the common name, referencing the Andes where it grows naturally and the silvery hue of the leaves. It grows high in the Andes, in vegetation almost free of trees, so my title is a little misleading (like Shaun Micallef having to play Chatanooga Choo Choo every time he mentions the Australian politician Barneby Joyce, I can’t mention Peru without adding ‘darkest’ thanks to Paddington Bear).

The other charming feature of the flower is the tendril-like blue-purple style, squeezed from the top of the flower.

Salvia discolor

The leaves are said to smell like blackcurrants, but mine smell more or less leafy. Although with the power of suggestion I can conjure up a faint berry odor, perhaps.

At least tearing off a leaf to smell it revealed the source of the botanical epithet ‘bicolor’. The leaves are dull green above and silvery white beneath. The stems, like the lower surface of the leaves, are covered in fluffy hairs too so this gives the plant its silvery look.

Black flowers are unusual in nature and this one is, like most, a very dark someothercolour. In this case purple, deep purple…

Salvia discolor

What animal would be attracted to such darkly coloured flowers I don’t know. Hummingbirds are often cited as pollinating salvias. The only wildlife I found on the plant was this rusty coloured insect. Here in the middle of Melbourne I imagine there are few Andean pollinators but maybe this ‘Flinders Street Fly’ (sorry) has flown all the way from darkest Peru….

*I’ve done this tenuous link before but I figure if it continues to amuse me, it might just raise the curl of a smile with you.


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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

6 thoughts on “From darkest Peru to Melbourne

  1. Hi Tim
    What a stunning flower. Make sure when you move into your new house, you take a snip as it is always awkward going back to previous houses to either dig up or take a snip of something you have left behind. I felt very guilty venturing into the front garden to get a snip of a shade tolerant salvia I had left behind, but I did it and glad I did. Your interesting bug looks like he is comtemplating his next move.
    Cheers Sandi

    • Well yes I did take a few snips… Didn’t take this one in the end because we have a very small garden in our new (rental) house and it wouldn’t have quite fitted. But, I know where it is!

  2. Hi Tim, Love this Salvia. It does well here at Bilpin. Its stickiness always surprises me. Must say I love your close up images, what sort of camera do you use?
    Peta trahar

  3. Thanks Peta: I use an Olympus SLR with a macro lens. Both pretty basic and it can be hit and miss. But yes lovely when the details comes out like in this picture. I can imagine this Salvia doing very nicely at Bilpin!

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