A Guide to May Night Salvia Plants

Dark-Flowered Perennials

May Night salvia with its dark flowers.
David Beaulieu

May Night salvia plants are known for the rich color of their flowers. They are also valued for the colorful wildlife that they attract to the landscape. They are just one member of a fascinating genus of plants that has something different to offer to growers with a wide variety of tastes.

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 are 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."

May Night salvia plants are herbaceous perennials. They are in the mint family, which makes them related to, for example:

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 went to Asclepias tuberosa) based on the plants' having the following traits:

  • "Suitable for a wide range of growing climates"
  • "Require low maintenance"
  • "Have multiple-season interest"
  • "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 to 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.

Other Kinds of Salvia

There are many types of Salvia. It is a genus that offers diversity and serves a number of needs. There is a species used in cooking: Salvia officinalis, better known as the herb, "sage." Sage figures prominently in Thanksgiving dinners for Americans as a flavoring ingredient in stuffing. But the type that gets the most buzz on the web is Salvia divinorum: This is a hallucinogenic drug.

Beginners in landscaping often know the annual bedding plant best: Salvia splendens, the spikey plant with (usually) red flowers. But most types are perennial.

These perennial salvias are typically grown for their flowers, but this is not true of silver sage (Salvia argentea), which is so called for its pretty, silver leaves. The color and fuzziness of its leaves make it more similar to lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) than to most other perennial salvias.

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 to 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 whitefly have been known to attack salvias. If either of these insect pests bothers your plants, spray them with Neem oil, a popular product for organic pest control.