Bladder Sage (Salazaria mexicana)

Bladder Sage (Salazaria mexicana)

Salazaria mexicana, commonly known by variants on bladder sage or paperbag bush, is a shrub of the mint family Lamiaceae distinctive for its calyx lobes that develop into small bag- or bladder-like shells around the fruits. Widespread in the southwestern part of North America, it is the only member of the monotypic genus Salazaria.

This plant takes the form of a rounded shrub, typically 50-100 cm high, sometimes larger. The stems form a spreading rigid pattern, with the tips often becoming spine-like. The leaves are small, 3-15 mm long and 2-8 mm wide, ovate to elliptic, entire, and with a very short or nonexistent petiole. The 2-lipped flowers develop in pairs facing away from each other; the upper lip is white to light violet and hairy, while the lower lip is 3-lobed and intense dark violet. The calyx starts out as simply a base to the flower, reddish-purple in shade, and then as the flower ages, it expands into its distinctive bag shape, 1-2 cm across, the dried flower eventually falling out of the hole in the end.

Flowering is generally April through June, but the bags are durable and may last on the plant into winter, becoming dry and papery.

These bushes occupy a variety of habitats in their range, including washes, gravelly or sandy slopes, shrubland, and woodland, often growing intermixed with other shrubs. The range extends from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the deserts of California, east to Texas and south into Mexico. They are relatively common; although both the foliage and flowers are sparse, the distinctive pattern of bags makes them easy to spot from a distance.

The genus is named after astronomer José Salazar y Larregui, Mexican commissioner for the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey of 1848-55.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.