Salvia penstemonoides

Common Name: big red sage 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Lamiaceae
Native Range: Texas
Zone: 6 to 10
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to September
Bloom Description: Rose red
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Hummingbirds
Tolerate: Deer


Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Plants are not reliably winter hardy throughout the St. Louis area where they should be sited in protected locations. Protection from strong wind is helpful for taller plants. Plants may repeat bloom from summer to fall, but need regular moisture and moisture-retentive soils to encourage this. Collection of plant seed produced by this rare species should be a high priority. Plants may self-seed under optimum growing conditions. Plant rosettes are evergreen to semi-evergreen in southern locations.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Salvia penstemonoides, commonly called big red sage, was thought to be extinct in the wild until several colonies of the plant were rediscovered in the Edwards Plateau region of central Texas in the 1980s. Although in danger of extinction in the wild, this plant is easily grown from seed, and at this time is thriving in a number of home gardens throughout its growing range. It is noted for its long summer bloom of tube-shaped, 2-lipped, dark rose-red to burgundy-red flowers (each to 1 1/2” long) that bloom in spikes atop stiff stems typically growing 3’ (less frequently to 5’) tall. As the common name suggests, the flowers are quite large for salvias. Flowers are reportedly attractive to hummingbirds. Leaf rosettes and flowers are reminiscent of penstemon, hence the specific epithet. The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) reports that major threats to the survival of this plant in its native habitat include herbicides, lowering of water table and erosion.

The genus name Salvia comes from the Latin word salveo meaning "to save or heal", in reference to the purported medically curative properties attributed to some plants in the genus.

Specific epithet means like the genus Penstemon.


No serious insect or disease problems.


Perennial borders, cottage gardens or native plant gardens. Deserves a prominent place in the landscape. Seeds/plants for this rare species may be difficult to locate in commerce.