Pitcher Sage

Pitcher Sage © DSchiel

Lepechinia calycina

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Mint Family (Lamiaceae)
  • Evergreen shrub
  • Stems square in cross-section
    • The sides bulge a bit, making this trait of the Mint family harder to discern
  • Bark, stems, and leaves with long hairs
  • Leaves
    • Opposite (2 leaves at each junction with stem) and simple (not divided into leaflets)
    • Lance-shaped to oval, with toothed margins and a rough upper surface
    • Hairy and sticky
    • Strongly aromatic
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) an open raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • Large, bilaterally-symmetrical, open trumpets
    • 5-fused petals, white to light lavender, rolled back at the tips
      • Bottom petal longer and larger than the 4 smaller, upper fused petals
    • Sepals (usually green, outer flower parts) 5-lobed, fused, and inflated
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit a set of 4 single-seeded nutlets (small dry fruits that do not split open, derived from a multi-chambered ovary)
  • Height to 7 ft.
Flowers © KKorbholz


  • Native and endemic (limited) to California
    • Grows in chaparral and foothill woodlands
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Grows at elevations between 490 and 2,900 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds
  • Used by Native people for headaches and fever; leaves steeped as a tea for urinary infections
  • Plants in the genus Lepechinia are known for their antioxident properties and are commonly used in folk medicine across South America and Central America (Parejo 2004)

Name Derivation

  • Lepechinia (leh-pe-CHIN-e-a) – named after Ivan Ivanovich Lepechin (1737-1802), a Russian botanist, physician, and explorer; director of the Saint Petersburg Botanical Garden
  • calycina (ca-le-SIN-a) – from the Greek kalyx, “cup or covering,” referring to the calyx, (collective term for sepals), which is prominent and persistent in this species
  • Pitcher sage – from the inflated pitcher-like shape of the fused, persistent sepals; or from the pitcher-like shape of the flowers, with the longer bottom petal creating a spout
    • This name is also used for a number of species in the Salvia genus of the Mint family


  • The sepal cup (calyx) persists long after the flower drops and turns from green to reddish purple, enclosing the fruit; by winter, the plant appears to be decorated with brown lanterns
  • Aromatic leaves deter browsing
  • Recovers quickly after fire or disturbance

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral and open woodlands
  • Flowers April – July

See General References

Specific References

Parejo, I., et al. 2004. Investigation of Lepechinia graveolens for its antioxidant activity and phenolic composition. J Ethnopharmacology 94: 175-184.

Wilson, B. 2012. Lepechinia calycina, California Pitcher Plant. Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery.