Salvia, Henry Duelberg
Each year, Texas A&M promotes their Texas Superstar
selections for the year. Texas Superstar plants are selected by
CEMAP (the Coordinated Educational and Marketing Assistance Program)
after several years of successful trialing throughout the state.
CEMAP makes a concerted effort to introduce new products to the
Texas nursery industry that make gardening easier and more environmentally
sound for the gardening masses in the state.
One of this year's promotions, the Duelberg sage
(Salvia 'Henry Duelberg') happens to be a plant that I found and
introduced to the Texas nursery trade. I'm a decent plant breeder
but my forte seems to be stumbling across improved plants in unlikely
places. For instance, the Gold Star esperanza came from a yard
in an impoverished neighborhood in San Antonio. The Marie Daly
rose was a sport in my mom's backyard in the Pineywoods of East
Texas. And the VIP petunia came from a flower bed in front of
a pay toilet in Stuttgart, Germany!
I actually prefer to look for plants growing in
less than average conditions as it helps insure that the general
public can grow them without any special input. Although most
gardeners (even the bad ones) generally provide at least the bare
minimum of needs for their plants I would prefer to find them
growing with NO horticultural help whatsoever. I want to know
if they can survive with no water, no fertilizer, no weeding,
no grooming, and no pesticides. When I hear a plant touted as
needing dividing every three years, or needing periodic fungicide
treatments to thrive, I immediately strike them from my list.
Sure, we all have the option of installing sprinkler systems,
double digging our beds, and spraying insecticides and fungicides
every ten days, but I for one "ain't gonna do it". First
of all, it doesn't make sense from a health or labor stand point.
Plus, after two back surgeries, I'm looking for plants that can
do some of their own work for a change.
The free ride is over! That's why I prefer looking
in poor neighborhoods, country gardens, and along Texas highways.
These folks aren't known for spoiling and pampering their plants.
But it's always hard to tell. Some folks like to sneak around
at night (especially during hot Texas summers), with a horticultural
IV, reviving all their marginally adapted plants. THAT'S why my
favorite place of all to look for Texas tough plants is in rural
cemeteries (at least those that haven't banned living plants like
some brain dead places have). You KNOW these residents aren't
spoiling their plants (short of a little extra bone meal!).
I've always said, "if the dead can grow it, you can too".
And it's true. In case you haven't guessed it by now, the Duelberg
sage came from a rural, Central Texas cemetery. Not just any cemetery
mind you, but one with no irrigation. I first spotted it during
a hot, dry, Texas summer on my way to Dr. Welch's annual Oktober
Gartenfest in Winedale. It didn't look great, but it WAS alive,
which was more than could be said for most of the other "real"
plants planted there. It had also been recently cut to the ground
with a "weed whacker" so there weren't even any blooms
on it when I was there. I was on a quest at the time to find native
populations of Salvia farinacea. Salvia farinacea (mealy cup sage/blue
salvia) is popular throughout the world, primarily as an annual
bedding plant. Unfortunately, like most of our global bedding
plants, in a quest for smaller plants with darker flowers, European
breeders have bred most of the toughness and vigor out of them.
In the wild, the plants are about three feet tall with gray- green
leaves and light to medium blue flowers.
Typical nursery plants are about a foot tall with
dark purple-blue flowers. Being dwarf isn't always better though.
In most of the bedding plant trials I've planted and evaluated,
the dwarf forms of plants are inferior in performance to their
larger sized parents. It only makes sense. After all, the reason
they are dwarf is that they don't grow! If they actually GREW,
they wouldn't be dwarf any more, right? Ever since the Victorian
"bedding out" period, breeders think all bedding plants
have to be less than a foot tall. This desire actually sprang
from the practice of planting floral carpets to be viewed from
upper story castle windows. Well guess what? My "castle"
has no upper stories!
Plants bred to look like blueberry muffins sitting
in the landscape might work fine during a mild, moist Dijon summer
but unfortunately often don't cut the hot mustard here in Tejas.
In order to survive hot Texas summers, which may be desert dry
with periodic interruptions of flash flooding, plants BETTER be
vigorous. Toss in foot traffic, cars, armadillos, grandchildren,
inebriated neighbors, etc. and being dwarf doesn't look like such
a blessing. If our plants aren't growing and constantly repairing
damage, they are often doomed. I would much rather trim an overly
vigorous plant back than to be forced to replace a dead "Miss
'Henry Duelberg' salvia is about three feet tall with fairly dark
blue flowers, darker than typical native populations of Salvia
farinacea. As a matter of fact, the leaves are wider, more serrated,
and not as gray as native mealy cup sage either. This has lead
to the speculation by some that it is of hybrid origin. I can't
imagine for the life of me what other species would be involved.
Although the cemetery where it was growing was a bit east for
Saliva farinacea, there where no other salvias in the cemetery,
or even native in the area. I'm not sure now long they had been
growing there but it seemed to be for some time. The plants had
reseeded quite prolifically in the grass and even in the cracks
of the concrete curbing. Henry Duelberg died in 1935 and his wife
Augusta in 1903. I have this theory that Mr. Henry was a botanical
sort and was dabbling in salvia breeding (you know "the father
of Texas botany", Ferdinand Lindheimer, was German too).
When Mr. Duelberg died, I supposed they planted his handy work
on his grave. Long live Henry! Just in case I'm wrong, I named
a white flowered seedling 'Augusta Duelberg' from the same grave
for his wife. Who knows, SHE may have been the horticultural wonder
woman. Despite the origins of these salvias I do know one thing.
Unlike other German salvias on the market, Henry Duelberg lives!
For more information on CEMAP and Texas Superstars, go to
texassuperstar.com. For images of 'Henry Duelberg' salvia, see:
Greg Grant is a horticulturist at the Stephen F. Austin Pineywoods
Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches, Texas.