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Monday - June 02, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Dieback of Indigo Spires and whirling butterfly
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have an Indigo Spires plant that is turning yellow and dying back. I have fed it but nothing seems to perk it up. I also have whirling butterfly plants that are losing leaves and dying back. What do you think might be happening? I thought both were hearty, hard -to- destroy plants, adapted well to Central Texas. Thanks


Indigo Spires, sometimes called Mystic Spires, is thought to be a hybrid between Salvia farinaceae and S. longispicata. It was found growing at the Huntingdon Botanical Gardens in California in the 1970s. The botanist who discovered and named it noticed that it the new plant was growing near the other two, and theorized that it was an accidental hybrid. Salvia farinacea (mealycup sage) is a Central Texas native, but the S. longispicata is something of a mystery, thought to be native to Mexico. In fact, when we went googling to try to find information about it, it was always in combination with S. farinacea to make Indigo Spires. When you're unclear about the parentage of a plant, it is very difficult to diagnose problems or recommend care. So, we found some facts, including in our Native Plant Database, about S. farinacea, and hope they will apply to the mix of two salvia. We learned that salvias hate to have wet winter feet, but also hates having roots dry out and will quickly die when that happens. If your salvia was in a poorly drained bed, it might be suffering from drowned roots. It's more likely, however, since we didn't have much winter rain, that the salvias are suffering from being dried out. You are going to need to trim out the upper part of the plant anyway, to take some of the strain off the roots, and then make sure it has moist soil around the roots. Under ordinary circumstances, it is advised to cut back old flower stems when new basal foliage begins to appear. Don't fertilize until the plant is recovered, if it recovers, and we hope it does. Just as an aside, hybrids like this are sterile, or their seeds will not breed true to the original plant. If you wish to propagate it, take stem cuttings.

Whirling Butterflies is a trade name given to Gaura lindheimeri (Lindheimer's beeblossom). The Genus, Gaura, is easily recognized but species names are more difficult due partly to a great deal of hybridization. The Gaura lindheimer is a native of Louisiana west to Texas and Mexico, and can be invasive. So, again, we're just going to try to find pests or problems of Gaura, without knowing the exact parentage. About all we could find out was that there are no serious pests or diseases and, indeed, it is considered an invasive weeds in many parts of the country. It has a long taproot, like a carrot, and attempts should not be made to transplant it, because it is difficult to avoid damaging that taproot. It would appear that because of our early hot Spring, both of the plants you are concerned about are reacting more like it was the middle of summer. Trimming them back pretty hard and then making sure they have water with very good drainage should perk them up. In times of intense heat, many plants will go semi-dormant, allowing their leaves to roll or fold up, to conserve moisture. Try trimming back all that excess foliage and dried leaves, and let the green leaves on the basal area keep things going. Even plants need a vacation.


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