What’s flowering – Salvia africana-lutea

The brown sage (Salvia africana-lutea) is a popular species used in indigenous coastal gardens in the Cape. It has a natural distribution on dune sands from Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Port Alfred. Brown sage is a hardy species, perfectly adapted to coastal conditions and its unusual brown flowers are excellent for attracting sunbirds to the garden.

brown sage, Salvia africana-lutea flowering on Grootbos Nature Reserve

A closer look at the flowers reveals interesting adaptation to bird pollination. Brown sage flowers contain sweet nectar which acts as an essential food source for sunbirds, particularly when proteas are not flowering. The hinged anthers of this species are triggered by the probing beak of sunbirds in search of nectar at the bottom of the flower. The anthers bend forward and dab pollen on top of the back of the birds head for transfer to other Salvia flowers.

You can demonstrate this by pushing a thin stick with similar diameter to a sunbirds beak in through this ‘trap door’ and watching how the anthers are pushed out of the flower perfectly to place pollen on the birds head.

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