Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
McMurray, Nancy E. 1990. Salvia mellifera. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Revisions: Images were added on 14 August 2019.
NRCS PLANT CODE:
The scientific name of black sage is Salvia mellifera Green (Lamiaceae) .
There are no recognized infrataxa .
Black sage hybridizes with a number of Salvia species including white
sage (S. apiana), purple sage (S. leucophylla), and chia (S.
columbariae). Hybrid populations are relatively uncommon, however, and
are largely limited to severely disturbed areas [4,9].
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
Black sage is distributed in the Coast Ranges of California from Contra
Costa and western Stanislaus counties southward into Baja California
[5,40]. It also occurs on the Channel Islands off the coast of southern
|Distribution of black sage. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2019. The PLANTS Database.
National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2019, August 14] .
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:
3 Southern Pacific Border
7 Lower Basin and Range
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K034 Montane chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K042 Creosote bush - bursage
SAF COVER TYPES:
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:
204 North coastal shrub
205 Coastal sage shrub
206 Chamise chaparral
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
211 Creosotebush scrub
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
Black sage is a shrub component of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and
desert scrub communities throughout much of California [10,20,34].
Published classifications listing black sage as a dominant component of
the vegetation are presented below.
Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of
Vegetation types of the San Bernardino Mountains 
The community composition of California coastal sage scrub 
A vegetation classification system applied to southern California 
Common associates include [12,15,28,51,54]:
Coastal sage scrub: California sagebrush (Artemisia californica),
California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), white sage,
purple sage, California encelia (Encelia californica), common
deerweed (Lotus scoparius), lemonade sumac (Rhus integrifolia),
chaparral yucca (Yucca whipplei), bush monkeyflower (Mimulus
aurantiacus), bluedick (Brodiaea pulchella), brome (Bromus
spp.), filaree (Erodium spp.), mustards (Brassica spp.), and
schismus (Schismus spp.).
Chaparral: chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), white sage,
ceanothus (Ceanothus spp.), manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.),
laurel sumac (Malosma laurina), California buckwheat, and poison-oak
Desert scrub: creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), white
burrobush (Hymenolea salsola), and staghorn cholla (Opuntia
|Black sage habitat in Santa Barbara County. Creative Commons image by Brent Miller.
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Black sage is generally considered of little importance to livestock or
big game . Although domestic sheep and goats may browse plants to
some extent [47,57], deer seldom utilize black sage [16,27,35]. Rodents
make limited use of black sage browse [2,57]. On chaparral sites in
southern California, woodrats gather and store the leaves for
consumption during the winter . Sage (Salvia ssp.) seeds are a
staple food of numerous birds and small mammals . Birds which
utilize sage seeds include the Gambel's quail and scaled quail .
Black sage browse is largely unpalatable to most livestock and wildlife
due to its pungent odor and bitter taste .
Black sage presumably provides nesting and hiding cover for numerous
birds and small mammals.
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Black sage is a suitable revegetation species because of its
drought-resistance, spreading habit, and rapid growth rate [6,16,45].
It is recommended for use in greenbelts and parkways, as well as in
areas where restoration of coastal sage scrub habitat is desired .
Seedling establishment is good when fresh seed is hand-broadcast or
hydroseeded in December to mid-February [16,45]. Horton  cautions
that seeds should not be soaked before sowing because soaking results in
a gelatinous mass of seeds.
In southern California, black sage is recommended for erosion control
plantings within coastal sage scrub communities [6,16]. Suitable sites
include sunny slopes with either shallow or deep soils at elevations
below 6,000 feet (1,830 m). Survival of bareroot nursery stock was 44
percent when planted in soils 6 feet (1.8 m) deep at an elevation of
2,700 feet (823 m); survival of 2-year-old wild seedling transplants was
24 percent . Established plants often reach full stature within 5
OTHER USES AND VALUES:
Native Americans have used black sage for culinary purposes. Seeds
were parched and ground into a meal used in baking. Crushed leaves and
stems were used as a mint-flavored condiment [2,3].
Like many coastal sage scrub species, black sage is quite susceptible to
air pollution damage from sulfur dioxide and possibly ozone.
Consequently, it is an effective biological monitor of air pollution for
areas of southern California . It is regarded as one of the best
honey plants along the Pacific Coast .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Black sage increases on heavily grazed sites . It has become
dominant over small areas on Santa Cruz Island due to decades of severe
overgrazing by feral animals .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Black sage is a native, semideciduous, subligneous, malacophyllous
(soft-leaved) subshrub that grows between 3.3 and 6.6 feet (1-2 m) tall
[16,21,32,40,55]. Plants are openly branched and spreading [16,40,47].
The square stems are green or purple when young but turn brownish-gray
with age . The aromatic leaves are dark green and wrinkled above
with lighter-colored undersides [2,40]. Flowers are 0.5 inch (1.25 cm)
long, pale blue or white, and arranged in compact whorls spaced at
intervals along the flowering stalk [2,40]. The fruit is a smooth, dark
brown, dehiscent nutlet approximately 0.08 inch (2 mm) long [22,40].
Black sage is shallow rooted . The much branched and fibrous root
system rarely extends 2 feet (0.6 m) below the soil surface with the
majority of roots concentrated in the top 5 inches (12.5 cm) of soil
[14,16]. Longevity of black sage is estimated at 20 to 30 years
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
Black sage reproduces by both sexual and vegetative means. Seedling
recruitment and vegetative regeneration occur immediately following fire
as well as during extended fire-free intervals [20,21,32].
Seed reproduction: Black sage flowers almost annually once plants have
established . The small, lightweight seed is widely dispersed
during the summer . Although seed longevity is not documented for
black sage, seeds of closely related chia remain viable for at least a
decade under laboratory storage .
Black sage exhibits a complex germination behavior that permits seedling
establishment under a number of environmental conditions. Because seed
germinates readily when exposed to light [25,36], black sage invades
disturbed areas. Keeley  recorded 23 percent germination when seeds
were incubated in the light at 73 degrees F (23 deg C). Most seeds
germinated within the first week. Germination increased to 50 percent
when seeds were exposed to alternating temperatures of 55 degrees F and
79 degrees F (13 degrees C and 26 degrees C) for 12 hours each. Keeley
 suggests that alternating diurnal temperatures such as these are
likely near the soil surface of gaps within undisturbed chaparral and
coastal sage scrub communities and may account for black sage seedling
recruitment in canopy gaps. Germination is inhibited by darkness .
Seeds buried in the soil remain dormant and require the presence of
charred wood for germination .
Vegetative regeneration: Black sage may spread vegetatively by
producing adventitious roots along decumbent branches [14,58].
Established individuals also rejuvenate their canopies through the
continual production of new basal sprouts from epicormic buds at the
stem base . Following disturbances such as fire or cutting, black
sage sprouts from surviving adventitious buds on the root crown
Black sage typically occurs at low elevations on the coastal and inland
sides of the California Coast Range. Sites include dry slopes and
benches below 3,000 feet (915 m) [2,40]. Dominant Salvia species
segregate by moisture preference within coastal sage scrub communities
[51,54]. Relative to other Salvias, black sage occupies more mesic
habitats [28,29,51]. It is common on coarse-textured soils including
those derived from unconsolidated sand, limestone, sandstone, and
serpentine [16,28,51]. Within Venturan coastal sage scrub communities,
black sage prefers coarser-textured soils and more southerly aspects
than purple sage . Whereas annual precipitation on black sage
dominated sites may average 14.5 inches (36.2 cm), sites dominated by
purple sage receive 13.6 inches (33.9 cm) of annual precipitation .
Although black sage may occur as scattered individuals  or intermixed
with other Salvia species, it often forms pure, monospecific stands that
extend over large areas [28,51,54].
Black sage is a short-lived, shade-intolerant species that nonetheless
produces self-perpetuating stands within coastal sage scrub communities
[28,52,54]. Continual seedling recruitment within intact stands and
basal sprouting by established individuals allows black sage to maintain
vigorous, mixed-aged stands during extended fire-free intervals .
Stands unburned for 60 years do not appear senescent [32,53]. Within
Venturan coastal sage scrub communities, black sage attained highest
cover in tall-canopied, older stands exhibiting substantial litter
buildups . On these sites black sage is a keystone species that
controls the composition and abundance of herbaceous associates .
Evidence suggests that it influences the associated flora through
biotic-control factors such as allelopathy [37,38,39], shading , and
the selective herbivory of associated rodents [53,54].
Black sage typically occupies gaps within the chaparral canopy.
Although seedlings rapidly invade recent burns within drier chaparral
communities, maximum cover occurs during postfire years 3 and 4 and
subsequently declines as the stand matures . In chaparral stands
over 20 years of age, black sage recruits seedlings in canopy gaps and
may form enclaves .
Black sage is a herbaceous perennial that becomes woody at the base
. Plants die back somewhat in the winter and produce new growth in
the spring. Like many associated coastal sage scrub dominants, black
sage is a semideciduous or seasonally dimorphic species . Large
leaves develop on main shoots during the winter when moisture is most
abundant and these are dropped over the summer drought period. Smaller,
axillary leaves are produced immediately following the formation of
main-shoot leaves but are retained until the following winter [52,53].
Black sage typically blooms from March to June [9,40]. Flowering
coincides with the early season activity of solitary, native bees .
Phenological development of black sage on chaparral sites in the Santa
Monica Mountain foothills is presented below :
growth initiated September - following autumnal
main period of stem elongation March - late May
flower stalks dried June
early season leaves dropped June
stem growth terminated June
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Black sage sprouts from dormant buds on the root crown following low
severity fires [27,50,55]. It is also establishes abundant seedlings
from soil-stored seed [13,20]. As a result, black sage is able to
rapidly reoccupy recent burns within coastal sage scrub and chaparral
communities. Seasonal dimorphism in leaf duration apparently enhances
black sage survival on drier chaparral sites during early years of
postfire succession .
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:
Small shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Black sage is a fire-sensitive species that may suffer considerable
postfire mortality [16,21,62]. Perennating buds on the root crown are
presumably very near the soil surface and are susceptible to fire
damage. Initial estimates of the belowground heat tolerance of black
sage indicate that root crowns fail to sprout at fire reaction
intensities over 200 kcal/sec/m sq . Black sage is likely to
survive the majority of fires in Venturan and Riversidian coastal sage
scrub communities (calculated fire reaction intensities of 170 to 200
kcal/sec/m sq) but substantial mortality can be expected following
higher intensity chaparral fires [21,53].
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Postfire regeneration in black sage involves a combination of sprout
regeneration and seedling recruitment . Predominant mode of
postfire reestablishment varies geographically . Postfire recovery
within coastal sage scrub communities is primarily through sprouting
[55,63]. Westman and others  found that sprouting potential of
coastal sage scrub species is generally greater on lower elevation,
maritime sites than at high elevations inland. They indicate that
ecotypic variation may be responsible for this differential sprouting
response. Following higher severity chaparral fires, black sage is
usually a nonsprouter and relies on the previously dormant seed bank for
rapid postfire establishment [21,24,62].
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
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