Plant Profile: Phlomis russeliana

Close up of Turkish sage (phlomis russeliana) in bloom.

An herbaceous perennial to c.90cm, Phlomis russeliana is one of around 75 species in a varied genus that ranges from the Mediterranean through Central Asia into China.

Phlomis are valued for their ability to thrive in poor, dry soils—in the wild, they tend to grow on open sites in dry, stony habitats.

Unusually among the genus, P. russeliana tolerates light shade (it inhabits open hazel woods in Turkey and Syria), enabling it to compete successfully in mixed perennial plantings.

The felty mid-green heart-shaped leaves provide effective ground cover, while dense whorls of rich yellow flowers rise in tiers above the foliage from early to late summer.

Pollination is by bees, and in dynamic planting schemes, the plant can be allowed to self-seed gently. The sculptural seedheads stand stiffly, remaining attractive and ornamental throughout the winter.

Slowly spreading rhizomes confer resilience and drought tolerance, and the plant is long-lived and reliable in a variety of soils, given reasonable drainage. In the season or two following planting, Phlomis often tend to prioritise root establishment over herbaceous growth, so it is worth considering specifying larger sizes for urban plantings—above-ground volume increases markedly in subsequent years. Propagation is by layering or soft-/semi-ripe cuttings.

Deciduous in winter, P. russeliana is hardy—unusually so for a plant with a broadly Mediterranean appearance.

Other useful members of the genus are evergreen subshrubs that maintain fresh foliage until spring, among them P. purpurea and P. fruticosa.

An evergreen cross between P. russeliana and P. fruticosa was selected by Hilliers as the cultivar ‘Edward Bowles’, with attractive large grey-green leaves reminiscent of its close relative sage and flowers of striking pale yellow. These shrubby Phlomis require full sun and more protection than P. russeliana. The woolly hair from felty Phlomis species is irritant, so precautions are needed when pruning.

This article was first published in the December 2023 issue of FloraCulture International. The author is Martin Deasy, a UK-based horticulturist and landscape designer.

↑ Back to top