One of our hardiest indigenous shrubs, Buddleja salvifolia is evergreen with attractive grey-green leaves and lovely clusters of fragrant, white, cream, lilac or purple flowers in late winter or early spring. With a little pruning these plants can be kept youthful and shapely.

Buddleja salvifolia, the sagewood, is not only a very attractive plant, it is also one of our cold hardiest, able to withstand cold down to -14 degrees Celsius.

Family:               BUDDLEJACEAE        (Sagewood or wild-elder family)

Name Derivation:

  • Buddleja – named after the Rev. Adam Buddle (1660 – 1715) an English amateur botanist and vicar of Farnham, Essex.
  • salvifolia  – leaves like those of a salvia (sage).

Common Names:          Sagewood, (Eng), saliehout (Afr), molalathau (Nso), lelothoane (Sso), umbatancwepe (Swa), modiaṱholana (Ven), igqange (Xho) & ilothane (Zul).

FSA Number:                   637                  Zim Number:                 836

The small, tubular flowers are borne in attractive, tight sprays at the ends of branches.

  • A large shrub or small evergreen tree, often multi-stemmed.
  • Branches often droop, giving the plant a soft, feminine look.

Size:                                   3 – 4 m (–8 m) by 3 – 4 m.


  • The small flowers are borne in attractive, tight sprays at the ends of branches.
  • Each flower is a narrow tube about 12 mm
  • Flowers are sweetly scented and are white, cream, lilac or purple.
  • Flowering in late winter, the smell is one associated with our Highveld winter

Colour:                               White, cream, lilac or purple.

Flowering Months:          Jul – Oct.

Fragrance:                        Sweetly fragrant.


  • Evergreen.
  • Leaves are simple, opposite, lanceolate, quite wrinkly above.
  • Leaves are silvery-grey to dark green above and whitish to rusty, often hairy, below.
  • There is seldom a petiole, the leaf base wrapped around the stem.
  • The midrib and net-venation are prominent on the lower surface.

Thorns:                          No thorns.

Fruit:                              Small capsule between Oct and Dec.

The flowers may be white, cream, pink, lilac or purple, but the flower centers are always yellow.


  • Bark on older branches red-brown.
  • Young branchlets and shoots covered with white or grey woolly hair, the branchlets are often square.           
In the Garden:

  • Buddleja salvifolia is an excellent, fast growing, extremely cold hardy large shrub.
  • With its grey-green to dark green leaves it will add a contrasting colour to a garden.
  • It flowers at the end of winter, adding colour and fragrance when not much else is flowering.
  • It grows happily in most soil types, including very wet, marshy soil.
  • A good pioneer plant for stabilizing stream, dam and water furrow embankments.
  • May be grown and pruned into a hedge or used as an informal screen.
  • A good wildlife friendly plant, attracting insects and birds to a garden.
  • Popular as a bonsai subject.
  • Fast growing, up to metre or more in a year.

A large shrub or small tree, Buddleja salvifolia is often multi-stemmed and has pendulous branches, so the plant looks soft and feminine.

Some plants have pastel pink flowers.

The African Leopard butterfly (Phalanta-phalantha-aethiopica) larvae feed on Buddleja salvifolia. Many adult butterflies feed from the flowers.

 Soil Needs:                         Almost any soil, but best in a fertile soil.


  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against cold.

Cold Hardiness:                Very cold hardy.

Water Requirements:           Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.

Light Requirements:        Full sun but will grow partial shade.

Roots:                                  The roots are quite aggressive.


  • Insect-eating birds are attracted to the insects that visit these shrubs.


  • Buddleja salvifolia is host to the larva of the African Leopard butterfly.
  • The flowers attract many adult butterflies, especially the Painted Lady, and bees.


  • A root decoction is used to treat coughs and colic.
  • An eye lotion is made from an infusion of the leaves.

Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • A pioneer tree that indicates areas that would become forested were it not for fires.
  • A tea made from fresh or dried leaves is drunk with some honey but no milk.
  • The leaves are browsed by game.

Buddleja salvifolia is a pioneer plant and often indicates areas that would be forested if it were not for regular fires.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the WC, EC, Les, KZN, Swa, M, FS, NWP, G, L, western Moz and eastern Zim.
  • Its range extends northwards into Tanzania.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, fynbos, Nama-Karoo, forests, savanna-bushveld and thickets.
  • Occurs along water courses and riverine fringes, forest margins and on mountain slopes.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.