The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Salvia columbariae
Chia

FAMILY:  Lamiaceae — Mint family

OTHER COMMON NAMES:  Desert chia, Golden chia

ETYMOLOGY:  The derivation of the name for the genus Salvia is from the Latin word salvus, meaning 'safe' or 'well', a reference to the medicial uses for these plants.

The intended meaning of the species epithet, columbariae, is unclear. The Latin word columbarius means dove-like or dove-colored.

The common name Chia derives from the Aztec word chian, meaning oily.

DESCRIPTION:  Chia is a well-known desert annual bearing blue to lavender-blue to purple-colored flowers in tight clusters on erect stems. The square reddish-brown stems terminate with the flower cluster then begin to grow again from the center of the top of the cluster. Another flower cluster will then develop on top of that new stem, giving an interrupted appearance to the stem of the flower spike.

The lower halves of the petals are fused into a tube before flaring open at the tops. The dark green leaves are distinctively textured and release a minty scent when brushed against or crushed. Seeds of chia have provided a nutritious food source to modern people and ancient desert dwellers. Native Americans also use the seed to make beverages as well as mucilaginous poultices to remove foreigh particles from their eyes.

Chia blooms from March through May in sandy washes and on dry slopes at elevations below 3,000'.