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Phlomis russeliana (Turkish sage)

Turkish sage is a stately plant, bearing whorls of hooded pale yellow flowers in summer and autumn.

Turkish sage flowers

Phlomis russeliana

Species information

Scientific name: 

Phlomis russeliana (Sims) Lag. ex Benth.

Common name: 

Turkish sage, phlomis

Conservation status: 

Not known to be threatened.

Habitat: 

Coniferous and deciduous woodland, clearings and in hazel scrub.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Asteranae
Order: 
Lamiales
Family: 
Lamiaceae
Genus: Phlomis

About this species

Turkish sage is an attractive, long-flowering perennial. Within the horticultural trade it is sometimes known by the (misapplied) name Phlomis viscosa, because of its sticky leaves. The well-known gardener William Robinson (1838-1935) described the genus Phlomis as: ‘A group of old-fashioned shrubs and perennial plants’, and P. viscosa itself as: ‘A rather clammy plant...with...numerous bright yellow flowers of fine effect’. Dr John Sims, who succeeded William Curtis as editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine from 1799 to 1827, formally named this plant (as Phlomis lunariifolia var. russeliana, in 1825), but he confused it with a similar species (P. pungens Willd.) collected in Syria and illustrated by G.D. Ehret in Alexander Russell’s The Natural History of Aleppo (1786).

Synonym: 

Phlomis lunariifolia var. russeliana, Phlomis viscosa (used in horticulture; misapplied)

Genus: 
Phlomis

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Restricted to Turkey, where it occurs mainly in the north, from Istanbul, east along the Black Sea coast to Rize, and south to Kutahya. It has been found at up to 1,700 m above sea level.

Description

Turkish sage is a herbaceous perennial, growing to about 90 cm tall, spreading above and below ground, with softly wrinkled, ovate leaves, grey-green on the upper side, whitish and densely hairy beneath. The hooded, yellow flowers appear from May to September, and are carried in whorls at intervals up the stout flowering stem. The flowers are about 3 cm long and are bee-pollinated. The fruit is a nutlet.

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Hand-coloured engraving of Phlomis russeliana (as P. lunariifolia var. russeliana) by J. Curtis, taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1825).

Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Uses

Turkish sage is cultivated as an ornamental, and holds the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It is a good ground cover species, suppressing weeds. Recent laboratory research has been carried out to investigate the antibacterial activity of its essential oils, which show potential for use in the food industry.

Cultivation

Turkish sage is a hardy species of Phlomis, which can be grown in any good, well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade. It has a long flowering-period, stretching from late spring to early autumn. It does well in sunny borders in British gardens, and is drought tolerant when established. Propagation can be carried out by division of the clumps.

This species at Kew

Phlomis russeliana can be seen growing near Victoria Gate and in the Rock Garden at Kew.

Pressed and dried specimens of other species of Phlomis are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. 

References and credits

Demirci, F. et al. (2008). Antibacterial activity of two Phlomis essential oils against food pathogens. Food Control 19: 1159-1164.

Huber-Morath, A. (1982). Labiatae: Phlomis russeliana. In: Flora of Turkey, Volume 7, ed. P.H. Davis. Edinburgh University Press.

Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (1991). Perennials, Volume 2. Pan Books Ltd.

Robinson, W. (1933). The English Flower Garden, 15th edition. London.

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 4 April 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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