Salvia clevelandii (also known as Cleveland sage, Blue sage, and Fragrant sage) is a mounding shrub with showy flowers and a deep, aromatic fragrance.


Welcome to our fourth, and final (for now), installment in our series about common salvia (also known as sage) plants in Southern California. There are hundreds of types of salvia plants across the world, from culinary sage to ceremonial white sage, and many call Southern California home.

This week we will take a look at one of the most aromatic salvia plants, Salvia clevelandii, the Cleveland sage!


Salvia clevelandii is a native Southern California crowd pleaser. It’s often found in its natural habitat on gentle slopes, making it a great plant for erosion control. Although it can grow quite large, there are landscape varieties that are perfect for smaller yards (more on that below). 



Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) basics:

  • Perennial herbaceous shrub
  • 3 – 4.5 ft tall, 4 – 8 ft wide
  • Mounding form
  • Moderate to fast growth rate
  • Evergreen
  • Highly pleasant fragrance
  • Flowers: Lavender, purple, blue
  • Blooming season: Spring to summer (often May through August)



Salvia Clevelandii is native to the coastal sage shrub and chaparral areas of Southern California and Baja California. It can often be found on bluffs and gentle slopes. In California, its natural habitat range runs from the San Gabriel mountains to the Tijuana border, and from the slopes by the ocean to the San Jacinto Mountains (below 3000 ft elevation). Fragrant sage is known as one of the most fragrant of the sage plants, hence the name. Its powerful sent has been known to travel across entire properties. Do you love that deep chaparral scent on a warm fall evening; the smell of your old Southern California memories? “Then welcome home,” says Salvia Clevendanii, “we belong together.”


Salvia Clevelandii, and all our chaparral favorites, are having a fragrance filled party in the local hills, and you are invited, of course. Just don’t get too rowdy and trample any plants.


Cleveland sage is an important part of our local ecology, attracting hummingbirds, seed feeding birds, butterflies, and bees. Hummingbirds are known to be especially attracted to Cleveland sage, making it a great addition to a pollinator garden.


Salvia clevelandii has grey-green highly wrinkled textured leaves with small ridged teeth at the edges. These small leaves (usually less than 1 inch long) emit the strong aroma this plant is known for. Sometimes these leaves are used to cook with in place of European garden sage.



The ruby red whorled calyces where Salvia clevelandii flowers spring forth from.



Flowers or highly imaginative alien spacecraft? The beautiful flowers of the Cleveland sage are prized for their color; from lavender to blue violet.



Rounded flower cluster produce tubular flowers with long stamens.



A female carpenter bee, dusted with pollen, is piercing a Cleveland sage flower blossom to remove its nectar. Who says insects are not cute? Salvia clevelandii is an important pollinator plant for our local ecology.



Bountiful flower clusters in the height of bloom, like so many alien spacecrafts taking off from their unearthly abode…


Landscape Information

Salvia clevelandii is an excellent garden shrub for any Southern California garden, especially a water wise or native garden. Like most sage plants, especially those native to our area, it has very low water requirements, once established. Salvia celvelandii tends to be fairly easy to care for and is cold hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.


  • Part shade to full sun (but tends to do better in full sun)
  • Very low moisture requirements – tends to be a little more attractive with occasional deep supplemental watering
  • It often does not require any summer irrigation once the plant is established – if this plant gets too much water it will often die within a few years – maximum summer water is 1x per month
  • Can tolerate a variety of soils, but prefers well drained soils (soil PH 6 – 8)
  • Cleveland sage is excellent for bank and slope stabilization
  • Deer resistant and perfect for attracting pollinators such as hummingbirds, seed feeding birds, butterflies, and bees
  • Fertilizer is not needed
  • Propagate by seed. No treatment is needed. Sow outdoors in early fall.


Salvia clevelandii shrubs with a beautiful olive tree trunk in the background. Cleveland sage is a perfect addition to your Southern California landscape.


Maintenance: The spent flowers can be removed to extend the blooming season, and the plant can be pruned in fall to reduce its size.


Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’

The ‘Winnifred Gilman’ cultivar of salvia clevelandii is known as a well adapted plant to the residential garden. It is often a little smaller than natural Cleveland sage, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and as wide, and is known to be cold tolerant to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (some 10 degrees colder than the standard salvia clevelandii). The flowers tend to be a rich blue-violet, which this cultivar is known and prized for. This cultivar was originally released at the Strybing Arboretum (which is now known as the San Francisco Botanic Garden) in 1964. It was named for one of the volunteer propagators.


Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ in the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden.


What’s in a Name?


We covered the name ‘Salvia’ in our first Salvia blog post – the Hummingbird Sage – take a look towards the bottom of that page.

The species epithet, ‘clevelandii’ was named, specifically, after Daniel Cleveland. Cleveland was a lawyer, amateur botanist, plant collector, and co-founder of the San Diego Society of Natural History in the 1874 (Salvia clevelandii is native to the slopes of San Diego County – Daniel Cleveland was native to the hills of Poughkeepsie, New York, although he eventually settled in San Diego).

Adding the double ‘ii’ to the end of a word is commonly done to Latinize that word. Latin and Greek are traditionally used in botanical names. A word ending with the double ‘ii’ is often a possessive in Latin; Daniel Cleveland’s plant.

Daniel Cleveland was known as an expert on Southern California ferns, and he helped to found the herbarium at the San Diego Natural History Museum.



The grounds at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Daniel Cleveland’s ghost is said to still be walking the hallways, pointing lost guests towards the restroom.   


There are many plants named clevelandii throughout the world of botany. Only Salvia clevelandii is named after Daniel Cleveland. The other clevelandii names are often named after President Grover Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland as a place and family name in England, or some other mysterious Cleveland meaning that the author of the botanical name did not wish to reveal.

The word ‘Cleveland’ originates from old English. ‘Cleove’ is a variant of the old English word ‘clif’ meaning ‘steep rocky slope.’ It’s still used today as ‘cliff.’ Old English ‘clif’ comes from the Proto-Germanic word, ‘kliban’ which also means a ‘steep rocky slope.’ Cleveland means ‘cliff-land,’ which is somewhat appropriate for Salvia clevelandii, because the shrub is known to grow well on slopes, albeit gentle slopes, not so much on cliffs.


The cliffs, or cleoves, of Sinningrove, Yorkshire, England; roughly where the name ‘Cleveland’ is thought to have originated.



The cliffs of San Diego, where Daniel Cleveland (the namesake of Salvia clevelandii) lived and made his name, and where Salvia clevelandii can often be found.  


Salvia clevelandii makes a beautiful and highly fragrant addition to the landscape garden in Southern California. Low water and low maintenance in its needs, this shrub’s colorful and showy flowers will dazzle the eye. What more could you ask for? It’s almost as if this plant was tailor made for our ecology, because, in a direct sense, it was.


Salvia clevelandii, blooming in your garden


Thank you for joining us again in this week’s horticultural adventures. Please come back next Wednesday for out next blog post, and as always, contact us for all your landscape needs!


By Daniel Williams

Client Liaison for Creative Concepts Landscape Management





San Diego Natural History Museum – a great day trip from Los Angeles. This museum is nestled in beautiful Balboa Park, where many horticultural adventures await!


Los Angeles Natural History Museum – located in beautiful Exposition Park, the LANHM offers gorgeous, climate appropriate gardens to inspire you!


California Botanic Garden – located in beautiful Claremont, CA, this botanic garden specializes in California native plants!