Dorr’s Sage (Salvia dorrii)

Photo Courtesy of Don Davis

Dorr’s Sage (Salvia dorrii)

Salvia dorrii (Tobacco sage, Dorr’s sage, Mint sage, Purple sage) is a herbaceous perennial in the family Lamiaceae. It is native to mountain areas in the western United States and northwestern Arizona, found mainly in the Great Basin Range habitat and southward to the Mojave Desert, growing in dry, well draining soils. Some large native populations of this species also are found in the Aquarius Plateau region of Southern Utah.

Salvia dorrii is a woody subshrub reaching 1-3 feet in height and width. The grey-green leaves are narrow and lanceolate, are tapered at the base and rounded at the tip, and have a smooth and round margin. They are generally basal, and about 1-3 cm long. They have an intense but pleasant, mildly intoxicating minty aroma, with the scent released when the foliage is handled or crushed. The inflorescence is made up of spike-like clusters of numerous purple flowers that are bilateral. The flowers remain on the plants after being pollinated, with the desiccated flowers remaining for some weeks or months after flowering. The inflorescences have a strong resemblance to miniature purple-colored Pussy willows.

Individual tobacco sage plants form large, heavily branched hemispherical mounds 3-4 feet across in sand drainage flats along Hole in the Rock Road southeast of Escalante, Utah. They can also be seen along the high, eastward-facing section of the Methuselah Trail in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of Nevada.

Salvia dorrii is an uncommon and locally rare plant with isolated populations throughout its range and requires well drained and dry soil, full sun, little water, and high summer temperatures. In Utah, it only occurs in restricted and isolated populations in steep canyons and arroyos near Moab, Utah and Escalante, Utah. It is considerably more common in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. They occur on dry slopes in areas with sandy soils in drainage washes and banks of arroyos throughout the Mountain West which experience intermitment and very infrequent water throughout the growing season.

Some chemical components found in Salvia dorrii include salvidorol and two epimeric abietane diterpenes.

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.