Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) is a very common species of sage found in California. This species is native to central and southern California and Baja California. However, it can be found all along the coast of California all the way up to the Bay area.
Black sage is a perennial flowering shrub, meaning that it lasts all year long! However, the flowers on this shrub tend to bloom during the warmer months of April to July. It grows up to an average of three feet in height, but in ideal conditions it can grow up to five feet. The colors of the petals range from light blue to light purple and lavender, the later being the most common. As seen in the image, the flowers cluster around the stem of the plant. The flower itself consists of five petals and four protruding stamens, which are the male organs of the flower. Two of these stames are sterile while the other two produce pollen. This morphology is important to note due to the fact that the two sterile stamens play a role in pollination.
As stated previously, the pollination of this plant is quite unique due to its morphology. The sterile stamens are short while the functioning stamens are longer and curve downward. When a pollinator infiltrates the flower landing on the shorter stamen, the functioning stamen is able to deposit its pollen onto the back of the pollinator. Similarly, the style, of the female part of the plant, protrudes from the flower and it splits into two unequal branches with the longer part curing downward. This allows the style to pick up the pollen off the back of the pollinator. In addition to this, the male organs of the flower mature before the female organs of the flowers in order to prevent self-fertilization.
Black sage produces nectar that attracts a myriad of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. However, the morphology of the flower deters larger pollinators from pollinating the plant. In addition, Black sage is a keystone species. This means that if it is removed from an environment, it would displace many species of birds, bees, insets, and other animals that depend on this plant for sustenance and habitation. Recently, there has been a decline in populations of black sage due to habitat loss due to urbanization and competition with invasive species. In order to mitigate the loss of this important species, planting black sage in native habitat gardens or in your backyard will be beneficial for the environment and for pollinators alike.