Sagewood is as tough as old boots!

Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Buddleja salvifolia 'Mauve' Picture courtesy salvifolia 'Mauve' Picture courtesy

If you want a truly beautiful plant that is as tough as old boots - you need a Sagewood!

Sagewood, Saliehout, ewanci, igwangi, chipambati, lelothwane, umbataewepe, mupambati (Buddleja salviifolia)

This beautiful small tree or large shrub is a member of the wild elder family.

It is called Buddleja salviifolia because of its wonderful dark green sage-like leaves which are conspicuously wrinkled and puckered above, and densely covered with whitish hairs below, giving them a distinctive silvery colour. An abundance large flower panicles droop down from the plant, appearing from August to October, and varying in colour from white, to lilac and purple. The flowers are followed by fruits which are little hairy capsules.

The flowers are full of nectar and have an intoxicating sweet honey-like perfume, attracting many species of butterflies, bees, other insects, and insect-eating birds. If you site your sagewood somewhere in the garden where you can stay for a while, when this tree is in bloom you are likely to see a variety of birds, dependant on the region where you live. It is visited by Arrow marked babblers, Kurrichane thrushes, Fork tailed drongos, Southern black tits; and if you’re really lucky, one of our many colourful Cuckoo species, or even a Bee eater.

Sagewood is also the host plant for only one species of butterfly, the African leopard (Phalanta phalantha aethiopica.) The leaves are browsed by Eland, Bushbuck, Nyala, Kudu and Impala. For all these reasons, sagewood is essential for all wildlife and fragrant gardens, so treat yourself to one, you will be delighted, as will many other creatures large and small!

Proudly, this is one of our most beautiful indigenous trees (SA Tree No: 637) and is common from the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape, to the Free State, Lesotho, Kwazulu-Natal, Northern Province and Mpumalanga; extending into Mozambique, Zimbabwe and tropical Africa. It does well near water and beside streams, growing naturally in groups on the edges of wooded areas; in sheltered areas near exposed rocky habitats; and often near drainage lines along lower slopes.

Sagewood is semi-evergreen, dropping some of its leaves in winter.  In the wild it grows quickly to +-3 to 8m tall, producing numerous branches from the main stem, and as these lengthen, they droop gracefully downwards. For garden culture, it is generally sold as a large shrub, 2 to 3m tall, with an equal spread. It can, however, be pruned to keep it smaller.

Buddleia salviifolia. picture courtesy salviifolia. picture courtesy

The fresh or dried leaves make an aromatic herbal tea, which can also be applied as an eye lotion. The wood is hard and is often used to make fishing rods; and in the past assegais and spear shafts were also made from the wood.

In the Garden:

Sagewood is an excellent choice for busy gardeners who want a low-maintenance and water wise plant which still rewards with beautiful flowers. It is also remarkably tough and resistant to pests and diseases, reducing the need to spray. And, if you wish to attract all types of wild life to your garden, you will find sagewood a great all-rounder.

It is an excellent pioneer plant, providing protection for slower growing plants and trees in new gardens. It will recover quickly from fires, re-shooting from the rootstock; and because it loves growing near water and has a vigorous root system, is perfect to stabilise slopes near river banks and dams.

Sagewood usually grows into a beautifully shaped shrub in the garden but it can be pruned to keep it smaller, and even trained into a lovely small tree. If pruned often it forms an excellent windbreak, informal screening plant, or hedge.

This plant has aggressive roots and because of its size, should not be planted too close to buildings and foundations.


Sagewood thrives in full sun but can also be grown in semi-shade. One of its greatest qualities is its ability to grow in a saline environment, making it an excellent choice for coastal gardens, where it will take fierce, salty winds. Sagewood is also hardy to moderate frost, but  in cold frosty regions try to site your plant in a warm area which is sheltered from cold winds, and protect young plants from frost until they are well established.

Once established, sagewood is remarkably frost, heat and drought tolerant, making it fantastic for water-wise gardens.  Watering moderately during prolonged dry periods will keep it looking its best in the garden. Care should be taken when transplanting, as the roots are very delicate.

This plant grows quickly and easily in very sandy soils with poor nutrition, but will adapt to most garden soils with excellent drainage. In poor soils, adding compost to the planting hole and a generous dusting of bone meal will get your plants off to a good start. Once established the shrubs will need no further feeding, but an occasional sprinkling with a balanced fertiliser, and a seasonal mulching around the roots with compost or kraal manure, will keep it looking great.

Sagewood can be clipped into shape any time after it has flowered, but should be pruned back at least once a year by about one third in order to produce more flowering shoots.

The fastest means of propagation is by taking semi-hardwood or hardwood cuttings in summer. Treat them with a root stimulating hormone powder and plant the cuttings in washed river sand; keep the soil moist but not soggy until roots have formed. Seeds also germinate readily but may not reproduce true to the parent plant.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If the sagewood is happy where it is growing it suffers from no serious pests or diseases, and insects like caterpillars, bugs and aphids etc. will do no serious harm.


This plant is not listed in any poisonous databases and Buddleja davidii is listed as nontoxic to humans, with no data suggesting it is toxic for dogs, cats or other pets. If they chew on the plant they will get no more than a stomach ache. However, it is always best to prevent children and pets from eating flowers or leaves.

This plant has aggressive roots and because of its size, should not be planted too close to buildings and foundations.