En EspaÑol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - April 15, 2014

From: Gray, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Problem Plants, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Why do conifers kill Texas hummingbird sage from Gray GA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Why do conifers kill Texas hummingbird sage?


First, we need to establish some plant identities. We found several websites referring to a salvia as Texas Hummingbird Sage, or Texas Sage or Hummingbird Sage; for instance, this one from Fine Gardening, this one from Seeds of Change or from Dave's Garden,  all of which refer to the plant as Salvia coccinea, which we find in our Native Plant Database as Salvia coccinea (Scarlet sage). There is also a plant in our database referred to as Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird sage). According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, Salvia spathacea is endemic to California; i.e., growing nowhere else in North America. When we check the Plant Profile Map on Salvia coccinea, we find that, while it does grow in a few places in Georgia, it is not reported as growing in Jones County, in Central Georgia.

We are going to put all this confusion down to creative trade names, and say that the best chance for a salvia growing in Georgia being the one you have purchased as Salvia coccinea (Scarlet sage). In this research, we found no indication of a conifer being poisonous to any sage, so let's look a little further.

Growing Conditions for Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird sage):

"Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil Description: Various mesic to slightly moist soils.
Conditions Comments: This perennial is easy to grow and deer proof."

Growing Conditions for Salvia coccinea (Scarlet sage):

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil Description: Caliche type, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Scarlet sage reseeds easily and will grow in the shade. It has pungent foliage that makes it fairly deer resistant. Periodically trim and deadhead to keep it bushy."

From that, it does not seem that simply shade from a conifer or any other tree would have caused either salvia to die. We do know that the fallen plant material from conifers tends to be acidic, thus influencing the soil beneath them to be more acidic.

Frankly, we can't verify that conifers kill salvias. Heavy shade from a nearby large conifer, the acidity of fallen needles from a conifer or just competition between the salvia and the conifer roots could all affect the outcome. Mr. Common Sense says if you have had this problem in your garden, don't plant salvias under conifers.


From the Image Gallery

Scarlet sage
Salvia coccinea

Scarlet sage
Salvia coccinea

Scarlet sage
Salvia coccinea

More Problem Plants Questions

Removal of Ashe juniper trees
April 19, 2015 - I have 15 acres with scattered huge oak and elm trees with tens of thousands of Ashe Juniper (cedar) trees 2” to 10” in diameter growing within the drip zone of the hardwoods. How do I take out the c...
view the full question and answer

Is Robinia pseudoaccia a good replacement tree for Shumard oaks in Austin TX?
February 27, 2013 - Recently two of our Shumard trees in the front of our house died. Both trees were small/medium in size having only been growing for 13-17 years. I've been reading about Black Locust trees which accor...
view the full question and answer

Why is my Texas mountain laurel growing so slowly?
July 22, 2015 - I have a Mountain Laurel, Anacacho Orchid Tree and Desert Willow on the northern side of our yard - all three get full sun most of the day. The Mountain Laurel is closer to the east side. The other...
view the full question and answer

Removal of weeds in buffalograss mix in Houston
June 15, 2009 - I recently attempted to seed a small lawn area with a buffalo/blue grama grass mix, unfortunately for me the area has been hit hard with weeds. Is there an environmentally friendly method to reduce...
view the full question and answer

Plant-related skin rashes from Round Rock TX
September 23, 2013 - I have been plagued with persistent skin rashes this summer, and it is happening with plants that have never bothered me before, for example, red yucca. The dermatologist says it is a plant reaction,...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center