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SPECIES:  Salvia mellifera
Black sage flowering in Pinnacles National Monument. Creative Commons image by Keir Morse.


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.
ABBREVIATION: SALMEL SYNONYMS: None NRCS PLANT CODE: SAME3 COMMON NAMES: black sage TAXONOMY: The scientific name of black sage is Salvia mellifera Green (Lamiaceae) [19]. There are no recognized infrataxa [19]. 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]. LIFE FORM: Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: 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 California [5,35].
Distribution of black sage. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2019. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2019, August 14] [34262].

   FRES30  Desert shrub
   FRES34  Chaparral - mountain shrub


    3  Southern Pacific Border
    7  Lower Basin and Range

   K033  Chaparral
   K034  Montane chaparral
   K035  Coastal sagebrush
   K042  Creosote bush - bursage


   204  North coastal shrub
   205  Coastal sage shrub
   206  Chamise chaparral
   207  Scrub oak mixed chaparral
   208  Ceanothus mixed chaparral
   211  Creosotebush scrub
   212  Blackbush
   501  Saltbush-greasewood

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
  California [15]
Vegetation types of the San Bernardino Mountains [17]
The community composition of California coastal sage scrub [28]
A vegetation classification system applied to southern California [42]

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
(Toxicodendron diversilobum).

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 [2]. 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 [18]. Sage (Salvia ssp.) seeds are a staple food of numerous birds and small mammals [57]. Birds which utilize sage seeds include the Gambel's quail and scaled quail [47]. PALATABILITY: Black sage browse is largely unpalatable to most livestock and wildlife due to its pungent odor and bitter taste [27]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: 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 [45]. Seedling establishment is good when fresh seed is hand-broadcast or hydroseeded in December to mid-February [16,45]. Horton [16] 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 [16]. Established plants often reach full stature within 5 years [45]. 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 [53]. It is regarded as one of the best honey plants along the Pacific Coast [57]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Black sage increases on heavily grazed sites [35]. It has become dominant over small areas on Santa Cruz Island due to decades of severe overgrazing by feral animals [35].


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 [2]. 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 [16]. 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 [16,32]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: 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 [22]. The small, lightweight seed is widely dispersed during the summer [22]. Although seed longevity is not documented for black sage, seeds of closely related chia remain viable for at least a decade under laboratory storage [20]. 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 [21] 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 [20] 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 [20]. Seeds buried in the soil remain dormant and require the presence of charred wood for germination [21]. 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 [32]. Following disturbances such as fire or cutting, black sage sprouts from surviving adventitious buds on the root crown [20,33,59]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: 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 [54]. 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 [54]. Although black sage may occur as scattered individuals [4] or intermixed with other Salvia species, it often forms pure, monospecific stands that extend over large areas [28,51,54]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: 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 [53]. 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 [51]. On these sites black sage is a keystone species that controls the composition and abundance of herbaceous associates [54]. Evidence suggests that it influences the associated flora through biotic-control factors such as allelopathy [37,38,39], shading [49], 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 [60]. In chaparral stands over 20 years of age, black sage recruits seedlings in canopy gaps and may form enclaves [53]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Black sage is a herbaceous perennial that becomes woody at the base [26]. 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 [52]. 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 [9]. Phenological development of black sage on chaparral sites in the Santa Monica Mountain foothills is presented below [48]: growth initiated September - following autumnal rains 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 [53]. FIRE REGIMES: 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 [55]. 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 [20]. Predominant mode of postfire reestablishment varies geographically [20]. Postfire recovery within coastal sage scrub communities is primarily through sprouting [55,63]. Westman and others [55] 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: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Salvia mellifera
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