Black sage is the most common sage in California, and one of the keystone species of the coastal sage scrub plant community in the southern half of the state. Black sages grows quickly up to 3 feet in height, but mature specimens can reach up to 6 feet in height and 10 feet in width. The plant has attractive dark green leaves, with raised texture that looks somewhat like a fingerprint pattern when viewed closely. The leaves are 1-3 inches long. The upper surface of the leaf is somewhat smooth, while the lower surface of the leaf is hairy. It is semi-deciduous, depending on the location and severity of drought. Leaves curl during the summer drought instead of dropping off. The plant is highly aromatic. Flower occurs in.5-1.5" wide clusters. Flower colors vary from white, to pale blue, to lavender, or rarely to pale rose color. The plant flowers are an important food source for butterflies and hummingbirds. The seeds are an important food for quail and other birds.
Black sage is able to grow on a variety of different soils, including sandstone, shale, granite, serpentinite, and gabbro or basalt. It requires a minimum of 15" and a maximum of 40" of rain per year. In the drier part of its range, black sage is happier on flats, mesas or slope bottoms where there is slightly more moisture retained in the soil. Black sages tend to turn yellow and eventually die in poorly draining sites. The plant prefers sun, but tolerates part shade. The normal form of black sage can get very large. Prostrate forms of black sage grow to just 1-2 feet tall by 6 feet in width and tend to be denser than the normal form, making an excellent ground cover.