Russian Sage, Salvia, Lavender & Veronica: How to Tell Them Apart

Russian Sage, Salvia, Lavender & Veronica: How to Tell Them Apart

russian sage, salvia, lavendar and veronica

Pretty spires of upright clusters of florets, the scented deep blooms of these lovely plants are not only long-lasting pollinator-friendly blossoms but have a world of their own perks that set them apart from each other!

With the exception of Veronica which is in the Plantain family, Russian Sage, Salvia, and Lavender are in the broad Mint Family (Lamiaceae) that includes Catmints, Spearmints, Peppermints, Catnip, many kinds of Herbs, and more. Sages, Salvias, and Lavender plants all carry the family aromatic leaves, square stems, and long-lasting upright flower clusters. Veronica are similar but without the aroma, have round stems, and glossy leaves.

Learn the difference between these gorgeous flowering perennial plants!

Fragrant Spires

Russian Sage, Veronica, Lavender, and Salvia can appear to be very similar at first glance, but there are so many nuanced differences that will make one better for your space compared to the others. Featuring nectar-rich blossoms, and long-lasting color, these fantastic plants each have their own unique niche in your sun garden!

1. Russian Sage

Named by the Russian botanist Karelin about 1840 after B. A. Perovski, the Turkestani governor of the Russian province of Orenburg, however, Russian Sage is neither a Russian native nor a true Sage. It is actually native to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout higher elevations of Tibet, but has been a garden favorite since the mid-1800s!

russian sage

Russian Sage (Previously known as Perovskia atriplicifolia, newly reclassified as Salvia yangii) has purple to lavender flowers. These fragrant airy, branched, and upward-reaching spires sway in the slightest breeze and will be completely aflutter with bees and butterflies! The tiny florets that fill the terminal flowering spikes look like little buttons that open into tiny tubular blooms. These are long-lasting as they open gradually from the bottom to the very tip-top! Even once they are open, the silvery stems and soft lavender-blue calyxes hold their hues until frost.

  • Russian Sage
  • Denim 'n Lace Russian Sage
  • Lacey Blue Russian Sage
  • Blue Steel Russian Sage
  • Blue Jean Baby Russian Sage

Loving full sun and having low moisture needs once established, these are fantastic in Cottage Gardens, commercial sites, Mediterranean and Xeric gardens, as well as in cutting gardens! Their low-maintenance nature means Russian Sages are fantastic en masse, as back-of-the-border accents, in the sidewalk or street-side hell strip, as prominent specimens, and in winding rows or drifts.

russian sage

  • Russian Sage blooms from July through October
  • Terminal multi-branched lavender upright spires
  • Russian Sage differentiates itself with foliage that is more fern-like
  • Full sun & low-moisture needs
  • Russian Sage is more shrub-like and taller, reaching heights of 3-5 feet
  • Handles hot and xeric sites
  • Large airy cloud-like upright mounds

The flowers are backed by upright mounds of gray-green to silvery aromatic foliage that resembles lavender leaves. The sturdy stems won’t fall flat and carry the Mint family square shape. By summer these perennials form clouds of blue to purple blooms that last and last!

2. Salvias

There are both perennial Salvia and “annual” Salvia known as Bedding Sage in this broad family of plants. Pineapple Sage, Gentian Sage, Mexican Sage, and Scarlet Sage are actually Salvia plants! Even the Common Sage culinary herb that is a common kitchen staple is Salvia! With flowers reminiscent of Butterfly Bushes, these flowering ornamentals are just radiant!


  • Salvia Snow Hill - A white flowering form
  • May Night Salvia - Dark purple blooms and darker foliage
  • Blue Hill Salvia - Almost neon azure petals
  • Pineapple Sage Plant - A red flowering Salvia for hot climates or as an annual accent
  • Bumbleberry Salvia - Dramatic rosy purple petals and dark calyxes
  • Blue Marvel Salvia - Deep dark mysterious spires

The annual Salvia are common seasonal container garden plants with larger petals and smaller-sized foliage mounds but can be perennials in frost-free climates of USDA zones 8-10. 

Annual or Bedding Salvia has more vegetative foliage that sometimes lacks the stronger aromatic qualities of the other Mint-family plants, and the larger more colorful array of blossoms (ranging from white, red, pink, purple, and yellow) are showier. They also handle sun and heat beautifully!

While their perennial counterparts are incredibly cold-hardy down to zone 3, these reliable perennials are a boon to bees and butterflies! Perennial Salvias have very aromatic blooms and foliage, and an array of flat mat-forming mounds to upright growing clumps. Both forms can gradually spread into polite colonies in the sun garden!

  • Salvia blooms from June through September
  • Full sun and very well-drained soil
  • Moderate to low moisture needs once established
  • Salvia ranges from 12 to 24 inches tall
  • Spreading mat-forming mounds and upright varieties
  • Can rebloom in the late summer or fall

Salvia has lipped and lobed petals that create a "landing zone" for pollinators - making it one of the top stops for pollinating insects! The flower spikes of the Salvia bloom profusely through the summer.

3. Lavender Plants


The most aromatic and beloved of them all, the Lavender plant is another Mint family flowering plant with smaller but wonderfully fragrant flower clusters on tall, slender stems. From the darker calyxes, the lipped petals stand out like flags! These pollinator-friendly blooms range from purple to blue to lavender and white.

The silvery to sage-green foliage and square stems have enraptured poets and literature with their fragrance that somehow is both relaxing and invigorating at the same time! Clean and classic, the flowers and leaves have been used for culinary purposes, crafts, and floral design for centuries!

The many types of Lavender and hybrid Lavender, including French varieties, Spanish Lavender, English Lavender, Portuguese, and Wooly Lavender. All look fantastic in the Rock garden, in cut flower borders, herb and Kitchen gardens, and Pollinator borders alike! Some of the most popular Lavender plants include:

  • English Munstead Lavender
  • Sensational!® Lavender
  • Phenomenal French Lavender
  • Otto Quast Spanish Lavender
  • Grosso Lavender

Xeric and Mediterranean landscapes are especially favorable for Lavender since they despise cold wet weather and soggy conditions. The rounded mounds of foliage look incredible and the summer blooms will always have Bees and butterflies visiting in the sun. Lavender has many health benefits, is a tasty addition to your diet, and the medicine cabinet and the oil are an aromatherapy must-have!

  • Lavender blooms from late spring until late summer
  • Full sun & well-drained soil
  • Low moisture once established
  • Loves warm winters & hot summers
  • Terminal flower clusters at the tops of slender stems

Unlike the long slender candles of Veronica, or the large, fuller blooms that Salvias has, Lavender has tighter terminal flowers and is much smaller in stature than Russian Sage.

4. Veronica Plants

The Veronica plant (Plantaginaceae) is the largest genus in the flowering plant family and includes about 500 different species and hybrid crosses. Veronica can also go by the names of Speedwell, Bird's Eye, and Gypsyweed and is in the Plantain family.


Veronica blooms are tightly packed spires that are called candles, blooming from the bottom up with airy sprays of little anthers that make each tiny floret look fizzy! They open from the bottom up, sometimes resulting in the tips of the blooms appearing green while the lower flowers are blooming. The flowers come in white, blue, pink, and purple and can be herbaceous annuals, perennials, or small shrubs!

The showy flowers and attractive green, shiny foliage provide color well into the fall, the strong flowering stems of these plants are striking when planted in groups.

  • First Lady Veronica - A white flowering Veronica
  • First Glory Veronica - Royal blue candles
  • Purpleicious Veronica - Rosy purple blooms
  • Sunny Border Blue Veronica - A tall lavender blooms
  • Giles Van Hees Veronica - Soft pink fluffy spires

Use the taller Veronica varieties for Cut flowers, borders, and tall focal points. Low-growing Veronicas are suited for containers, as groundcovers and border edging!

All Veronica look great in Cottage plantings, and Xeric gardens and combine well with other plants in beds and borders! Pollinators adore these blooms and the upright round stems are backed by a mound of ornate green leaves.

  • Veronica usually blooms in early summer and lasts until autumn
  • Darker usually glossy green leaves
  • Leaves lack any aromatic fragrance, but the flowers have a sweet scent
  • Long candle-like spires of tiny blooms, sometimes branched at the base
  • Tends to be smaller in stature, ranging from 8 to 15 inches tall depending on variety
  • Upright clumps can rebloom
  • Handles cold and heat
  • Full sun and well-drained soil
  • Prefers more moisture than Lavender, Sage, and Salvia

Plant in the spring and provide well-drained soil with full sun to partial shade. This sturdy plant can take Clay or heavy, wet soils as long the soil is in a well-drained area.

Beautiful Variations On A Theme

Gorgeous no matter what size or shape they come in, these beautiful flowering perennial plants are sure to become your favorite once you have one or all of them growing in your landscape!

Hardy and adaptable, these sun-loving and pollinator-magnets will shine in the garden and the vase, are easy to grow, and are low-maintenance gems no matter which you choose! Check out our #ProPlantTips for Caring for your perennials and squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from these beautiful specimens!

Check out all the quality perennials, annuals, and more to enliven your yard and enjoy the convenience of having it shipped to your doorstep from Nature Hills!

Happy Planting!

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