• Alison Murray

Things to do in the garden during lockdown day 90: see how hot your hot lips are

Salvia 'Hot Lips' varies the degree of red on its lips. But how? And why?

Prized for their bicolour flowers Salvia 'Hot Lips'' has an astonishing ability to vary its flower colour from pure white to pure red and anything in between. It can vary from year to year and even within a same plant at any one time.

I have become slightly obsessed with why this plant is so fickle with its flower colouration. The RHS mentions that colour fades as the days shorten, but this is not something I have consistently observed. I've seen the same plant produce whiter flowers during a dry conditions one year, and redder ones under similar conditions the next. I'm tempted to put a ribbon round a flower stalk and see if any individual flower changes colour as it ages. I suspect that how hot this salvia's lips are might be due to a combination of many epigenetic factors, water availability temperature, nutrients day length etc.

Equally as intriguing is how the plant might benefit from having such varied flower colouration, perhaps it attracts a wider variety of pollinators. Some plants like horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum change their flower colour once the flowers have been pollinated, enabling the pollinators to easily home in on unpollinated flowers. The evolutionary advantage and genetics behind Salvia 'Hot Lips' flower colouration feels like a gorgeous PhD project waiting to happen. I don't have the answer, and would relish an expert opinion.

These are the flowers from three cuttings I took from the same plant earlier this year. Same compost, same sized pot but all doing their own thing.

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