White Sage is Weird

White sage is an aromatic plant in the mint family that grows in Southern California and Northern Baja California and nowhere else in the world.

In addition to its rarity, not just any bee or insect can pollinate this plant. The white sage flower needs a heavy bee like a California bumblebee or a Carpenter bee for pollination to occur.

The white sage’s unusual flower structure has a petal that covers access to the nectar at the flower’s throat. European honey bees are too small to move the petal out of the way. But when a heavy bee like the California bumblebee lands on the flower, the bumblebee’s weight moves the petal, allowing the bee to collect nectar from the flower’s throat and begin pollination. (For a more detailed description of the pollination of white sage, see Robert L. Allen and Fred M. Roberts’ book Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains.)

Carpenter bee collects nectar from white sage flower. Photo by Bob Allen.

White sage’s long term survival in the wild depends on California bumblebees and Carpenter bees. But did you know that some California bumblebee species are endangered?

How can we help the bumblebee thrive? Leave the leaves!

Bumblebees need leaf litter on the ground for their nests and Carpenter bees need old wood to tunnel and nest. Carpenter bees also nest in the flower stalks of chaparral yucca.

Join OCCNPS as we give away 96 four-inch California White Sage plants at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano this Saturday, Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. We are giving away one white sage plant per resident while supplies last.

White sage giveaway at OCCNPS chapter event Nov. 9, 2022. Photo by J. Wallace

Visit with us at The Ecology Center this Saturday, pick up a plant, and remember to leave the leaves in your garden to help California bumblebees pollinate your new sage and have a place to call home.

2 responses to “White Sage is Weird”

  1. Lovely photography and important work you’re doing!


    1. Thank you. We do what we can.


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