Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lyre-Leaved Sage

Lyre-Leaved Sage, Salvia lyrata, is one of the earliest members of the mint family to display its showy blooms. I find the design of the mint flower fascinating. The sepals are fused to form that wonderful hood from which the flower emerges. The hoods remain after the flowers drop and are attractive on their own merits.

The five petals of the flower are also fused to form a long tube. The lobes at the end of the tube are all that remain of what were five individual petals in the early evolutionary history of the flower. These flowers are beautiful. It’s no wonder so many of the mint species, including this one, have been selectively bred to produce plants for use in our yards and gardens.

The tubed flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. In order for its tongue to reach the nectar, this Pipevine Swallowtail has to push its face right inside the flower tube.

The shape of the leaf is supposed to resemble that of a lyre, the classical stringed instrument commonly used in ancient Greece. Instead of musical instruments, I always think of radish leaves. The leaves persist throughout the year and take on a purplish hue in the winter.

Sunny openings in the woods often develop solid stands of Lyre-Leaved Sage. Most of the leaves are located at ground level, so mowing does no harm to the plant. I have sections of my mowed trails that have become solid stands of sage. Cultivated varieties have been developed for use as ground covers, especially in areas that are going to be mowed. I like to see native plants become popular for the home landscape, but I always prefer the original wild version to the plant breeder’s creations.

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