A Guide to May Night Salvia Plants

Dark-Flowered Perennials

Image: 'May Night' salvia is so called for its dark flowers.
'May Night' salvia is so called for its dark flowers. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy, Plant Type for May Night Salvia Plants

Plant taxonomists have a difficult time deciding on the botanical name for 'May Night' salvia plants. All of the following scientific names for the plant pictured in the photo here seem to be acceptable:

  • Salvia x superba 'May Night'
  • S. x superba 'Mainacht' (its name in Germany, where the plant began)
  • S. x sylvestris 'May Night'
  • S. nemorosa 'May Night'

As if all that were not confusing enough, nemorosa is frequently misspelled as nemerosa. Nemorosa is a Latin adjective deriving from nemus, meaning "forest."

'May Night' is the cultivar name. Its common name is sometimes given as "meadow sage." Why "sage?" What does this plant have to do with the culinary herb, sage that figures so prominently in Thanksgiving dinners for Americans as a flavoring ingredient in stuffing? Well, the culinary herb and the perennial flower featured here belong to the same genus. The botanical name for the herb is Salvia officinalis.

May Night salvia plants are herbaceous perennials.

Traits, Plant Care

May Night salvia was named the 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year™ by the Perennial Plant Association. The organization makes a selection each year (in 2017, the honor goes to Asclepias tuberosa) based on the plants' having the following traits:

  1. "Suitable for a wide range of growing climates"
  2. "Require low maintenance"
  3. "Have multiple-season interest"
  4. "Are relatively pest/disease-free"

The plants bloom in the latter half of May (in a garden in zone 5, for example). This long-blooming perennial plant bears small, purplish-blue flowers on spikes and reaches 18-24 inches in height, with a similar spread. The lance-shaped leaves, many feel, add to the vigorous appearance of the plant.

If you remove the spent blooms, May Night salvia plants will flower all summer long. Such long-blooming perennials are a joy to grow for gardeners who care about sequence of bloom.

Growing Conditions, Planting Zones for May Night Salvia

Grow May Night salvia flowers in an area with full sun and with a well-drained soil. Although drought-tolerant perennials once established, a moderate amount of water must be supplied to young plants.

May Night salvia flowers are best grown in planting zones 5-9.

Uses, Wildlife It Attracts, Pest Control

May Night salvia flowers may be used in cut-flower arrangements, and the dried leaves are sometimes used in potpourris. Some folks eat the young, tender leaves in salads or, alternatively, include them for seasoning in cooked dishes (they are not, however, everyone's cup of tea). But most importantly, the long blooming period of May Night salvia makes it a workhorse in the perennial bed. This fact, along with the rich color of the flowers, constitutes the main reason for growing this perennial.

Plants that attract butterflies, these popular perennials will also draw hummingbirds and bees to your landscaping. Deer pests, by contrast, are not attracted to May Night salvia plants, making them useful in Bambi-plagued regions as deer-resistant perennials. In fact, most growers in the North will not have any significant pest problems with these plants. However, scale insects and white fly have been known to attack salvias. If either of these insect pests bother your plants, spray them with Neem oil, a popular product for organic pest control.