Hello … and goodbye

Pineapple Sage bloom stalk

My Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) has been blooming sporadically for about three weeks. Now it has hit its stride, producing numerous scarlet blooms on plants about three feet tall and equally wide. They are magnificent.

Every late summer/early fall, I wait impatiently for the first buds of this native of the oak and pine scrub forests of Mexico and Guatemala to open. All summer, this tender herb puts on serious leaf mass. This is great for two reasons.

First, the leaves are pretty and pest free, so they bring a freshness to the late summer border. And, more importantly, the leaves possess a delicate fragrance and taste that I adore. The leaves of this member of the mint family really do smell and taste like pineapple. They are wonderful brewed into a light summer herbal tea, baked into a pound cake, or adding a surprising twist to fruit salads — or green salads, for that matter. Culinarily speaking, you can’t go wrong adding a bit of this delicate herb to almost any dish you can imagine.

As wonderful as the leaves are, it’s the flowers that I wait impatiently for. About mid-September, I finally begin to see the unusual closed flower clusters bowing inconspicuously beneath the leaves like this:

Pineapple Sage flower cluster hinting at future scarlet delights

As the flowers in the cluster begin to open one by one, the bloom stalk unbends and reaches for sunlight like this:

Stretching upward for improved pollinator access

Eventually, my group of several plants is covered in erect, long-blooming flower clusters that stand above the fragrant foliage like this:

Autumnal pollinator magnets

Every remaining pollinator passing through my yard seems to find these gorgeous — and apparently tasty — blooms. Migrating Monarch butterflies stop by for a sip. Carpenter bees weigh down the stalks with their heavy bodies. Best of all, migrating Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds seem irresistibly drawn to these scarlet sirens.

I’ll be taking down my hummingbird feeder next week, after I am certain that the hummingbirds are mostly — if not entirely — done with my yard until next April. My summer resident birds left a couple of weeks ago. But I am still getting an occasional visitor migrating from more northern regions. I fancy that my blooming Pineapple Sages serve as the equivalent of neon welcome signs at roadside motels. Hummers spot the promise of food from the air and descend to linger for a few hours, sometimes overnight. As silently as the migrants appear, they are gone.

Pineapple Sage serves as a key season change indicator in my garden. I greet its abundant blooms with  delight tinged with a hint of melancholy, knowing that my scarlet welcome mat will soon be browned by the first killing frost, and that summer pollinators will disappear until spring sunshine reawakens my garden next year.

 

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