A tale of two flowers

Plant 1 and Plant 2. They are both immensely attractive as nectar sources to pollinators (butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, especially). They both have spires of (often) purple flowers, which frequently arch over rather than standing erect; and both have opposite lancelolate leaves. They both often grow in clumps a foot or two high:

(#1) Plant 1

(#2) Plant 2

But viewed up close, they are clearly very different plants.

(Hat tip to Kim Darnell for pointing out the resemblance of the two plants.)

Plant 2 has woody stems; it’s a shrub or tree, in a dwarf variety in #2. Plant 1, in contrast, is a herbaceous plant, with soft stems.

Plant 2’s leaves are wider than Plant 1’s, and Plant 2’s flowers are arranged in conical spikes, while Plant 2’s flowers simply appear along the stems. And the stems of Plant 2 are round in cross-section, those of Plant 1 square.

Up close, their flowers are very different. Plant 1 has the lipped flowers characteristic of labiate plants (in the Lamiaceae, or mint family), but with the flowers surrounded by colorful bracts. The flowers of Plant 2, in contrast, are also tubular, but have four petals in a rosette. Up close:

(#3) A bicolor variety of Plant 1

(#4) A deep-red cultivar of Plant 2

Plant 1 is Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage, a labiate and a great favorite of hummingbirds. Plant 2 is butterfly bush, genus Buddleja or Buddleia — in #2 and #4, dwarf cultivars of B. davidii (Buddleia Lo & Behold® ‘Pink Chip’ in #2, ‘Royal Red’ in #4).

On Mexican bush sage, from Wikipedia:

Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to subtropical and tropical conifer forests in central and eastern Mexico. The flowers are usually white, emerging from coloured bracts. It is not frost hardy, but is often grown in warmer latitudes for its prominent arching velvety blue or purple inflorescences.

It grows up to 1.3 m (4.3 ft) high and 2 m (6.6 ft) wide, with numerous erect stems, often arching at their tips, and with long inflorescences. The linear-lanceolate leaves are a soft mid-green, with whitish, hairy undersides.

There are many varieties. Some have stems that are more erect than arching. Some have flowers that match the colored bracts. And the color of the bracts ranges from violet (on the bluish end) through purple to red, and there are all-white variants too. Here’s a variety with colored flowers as well as bracts, in the violet color range, with relatively erect flower stems:

(#5) Another Mexican bush sage

S. leucantha is a sage and its flowers are (often) purple, so it could reasonably get the common name “purple sage”, though that label is applied to quite a number of plants, as I detailed in my 6/2/17 posting “Pride Time #1: the pink and the purple”, with a section on the “purple sages” S. pratensis, S. nemorosa, S. dorrii, S. leucophylla, S. pachyphylla, S. officinalis ‘Purpescens’.

Mexican bush sages are common ornamental plants in gardens in my area. There’s a handsome clump of them on the grounds of the old Palo Alto Medical Foundation, at 300 Homer Ave. (at Bryant St.), just around the corner from my house. (The buildings have been in development as the Palo Alto Historical Museum ever since PAMF moved to new buildings on El Camino Real in 1999. The rest of the site is now a public park.)

On butterfly bush, from Wikipedia:

Buddleja, or Buddleia …, commonly known as the butterfly bush, is a genus comprising over 140 species of flowering plants endemic to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The generic name bestowed by Linnaeus posthumously honoured the Reverend Adam Buddle (1662–1715), an English botanist and rector, at the suggestion of Dr. William Houstoun. Houstoun sent the first plants to become known to science as buddleja (B. americana) to England from the Caribbean about 15 years after Buddle’s death.

… Of the approximately 100 species nearly all are shrubs <5 m (16 ft) tall, but a few qualify as trees

… The colour of the flowers varies widely, from mostly pastel pinks and blues in Asia, to vibrant yellows and reds in the New World, while many cultivars have deeper tones. The flowers are generally rich in nectar and often strongly honey-scented.

… The most popular cultivated species is Buddleja davidii from central China, named for the French Basque missionary and naturalist Père Armand David. Other common garden species include … B. globosa, grown for its strongly honey-scented orange globular inflorescences, and the weeping Buddleja alternifolia. Several interspecific hybrids have been made

… Popular garden cultivars include ‘Royal Red’ (reddish-purple flowers), ‘Black Knight’ (very dark purple), ‘Sungold’ (golden yellow), and ‘Pink Delight’ (pure pink). In recent years, much breeding work has been undertaken to create small, more compact buddlejas, such as ‘Blue Chip’ which reach no more than 2–3 ft tall, and which are also seed sterile, an important consideration in the USA where B. davidii and its cultivars are banned from many states owing to their invasiveness.

The cultivars have stunning flowers. See ‘Royal Red’ in #4 and ‘Black Knight’ below:


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