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Ten-Foot Salvia's a Gentle Giant

Learn about a tall flower that can add an eye-catching touch and attract hummingbirds to the garden.

By Pat Rubin, Sacramento Bee

Salvia gesneriiflora is one of those "stand back, I'm coming through" sorts of plants. No ordinary salvia, it grows as large as 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide with leaves up to 6 inches long and bright red flowers 2 inches or longer, all in just a few months.

Tagged with an unwieldy name because its leaves resemble those of a gesneriad, it is a magnet for hummingbirds and an incurable sprawler that spreads its great, coarse, land-grabbing branches across paths and over other plants willy-nilly.

Give this salvia some room and then sit back and enjoy the fresh spring-green, heart-shape leaves and red flowers. The variety called "Tequila" has purple-black calyxes, which is the covering at the base of the flowers, and the combination of green, black and red is nothing short of striking.

S. gesneriiflora is similar to cardinal sage (Salvia fulgens), according to John Sutton, author of The Gardener's Guide to Growing Salvias. However, it is much larger, has brighter flowers and is a true autumn-flowering sage.

S. gesneriiflora in a protected spot because, like many salvias, this one is somewhat tender. Winter tenderness aside, it's worth a spot in the garden, albeit a very big spot not too close to anything that isn't hardy. It prefers regular and deep watering. It does as well in sun as in light shade. It roots easily from cuttings.

Salvia gesneriiflora

Type: Perennial
Light/soil/water: Full sun to light shade; average soil; regular, ample water
Flower time: Starts flowering in fall and blooms almost year-round
Size: Up to 10 feet high, 5 feet wide
Extras: Bright red flowers attract hummingbirds

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