What Is Hot Lips Plant And Where Does Hot Lips Plant Grow

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

You might have to be a fan of the once popular television show MASH to know Loretta Swit, the actress who played Hotlips Hoolihan. However, you don’t have to be a fan to find an excellent representation of the name in the plant world. Hot lips plant has just the kind of pucker you might expect from the moniker, but the pair of lips are actually the plant’s flower.

What is hot lips plant? Read on for more hot lips plant info and tips on growing this unique specimen.

What is Hot Lips Plant?

There are over 2,000 species of Psychotria, the genus under which hot lips falls. Where does hot lips grow? Psychotria elata is part of the tropical rainforest understory flora of the Americas. It is a unique plant with uninteresting flowers but fabulous lip-like bracts. The plant can be difficult to grow and has very special cultivation conditions.

Hot lips grows as a shrub or small tree. The plant has deeply veined simple leaves of matte green. The flower is actually a pair of modified leaves that pout around the tiny star-like white to cream flowers. These become small bluish-black berries. The plant is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Unfortunately, the plant is severely threatened due to habitat destruction and development. It is nearly impossible to get the plant or seeds here in the States. It is a common gift plant in Central America, however, usually for Valentine’s Day.

Additional hot lips plant info tells us that the plant is also called hooker’s lips but hot lips is a little more family friendly. Interestingly, this plant contains the chemical dimethyltryptamine, a psychedelic. It is also used as traditional medicine among the Amazon people to treat aches and arthritis, infertility and impotency.

Where Does Hot Lips Plant Grow?

Hot lips plant is from Central and South America, especially in areas like Columbia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama. It grows where the soil is rich and humic from leaf litter — moist and sheltered from the most powerful sun rays by upper story trees.

Interior growers turn to plants from around the world to add exotic touches to the home. Hot lips plant fits the bill but requires a tropical environment. For this reason, it is mostly a collector’s plant for much of the United States. Growing hot lips plants requires a heated greenhouse or solarium, high humidity and shelter from harsh solar rays.

Growing hot lips plant means mimicking the understory tropical environment for which it is suited. Most potting soil will not have both the excellent drainage and moisture retentiveness necessary to raise these plants. Add a bit of vermiculite and peat moss before potting up the plant.

Place it in an area with temperatures of at least 70 F. (21 C.), humidity of at least 60 percent and indirect bright lighting.

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Salvia care: How to get the best from your salvias

William Dyson, curator at Great Comp Garden near Sevenoaks, has been growing and breeding salvias in his small onsite nursery for more than 25 years. He grows over 200 different varieties including Salvia ‘Silas Dyson’ and Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’. These introductions made the beautiful sage plant a must-have among designers and horticulturalists looking to add body, colour and movement to a border.

William says: “Salvias really enjoy the sandy ridge that runs beneath our feet here. The diversity of flower colour and the length of flowering, from May to November, make these plants a real favourite with gardeners.”

Salvia care: How to grow and look after salvias

William Dyson with Salvia ‘Maroon’ Close up of Salvia ‘Maroon’. Credit: Vikki Rimmer

1. Habitat

Plant salvias in well drained soil. If you have clay soil, grow them in pots and containers. These plants enjoy lots of sunlight so make sure they are in full sun or they will lean towards the light.

2. Pruning

You will need to prune these plants twice: first in spring and then in July. For the spring trim, make the cut quite low down and remove any dead from the winter. Make sure shoots are visible from below where you make the cut.

The second ‘Hampton Hack’ in July (see video below) can be done with sheers or secateurs. Cut just below where the inflorescence is, repeat across the plant and it will be back in flower in 5 weeks’ time.

Salvia ‘Cerro Potosi’ and Salvia ‘Caradonna’. Credit: Vikki Rimmer

3. Feeding

Only salvias grown in pots should receive extra feed if you feed them in the ground you will get a lot of growth and less blooms. For pots, use a high potash feed like tomato feed.

How to perform The Hampton Hack

With July in full flow, now is the perfect time to trim back salvias so they can reward you with flowers throughout summer and autumn. This second prune of the year (following the initial one in April) is known as ‘The Hampton Hack’.

Watch a tutorial from William Dyson of Great Comp Garden to learn how to do The Hampton Hack:

Mexican Salvias

Salvias can be found all over the world: in South America, central America, Mexico, Europe, Asia and the USA, but it is perhaps the Mexican salvia that works best as a hardy plant that will over-winter outside in the UK without problems.

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ put this genus on the map when it was introduced in 2002. Since then, brilliant varieties such as ‘Pink Lips’, ‘Amethyst Lips’ and ‘So Cool Pale Blue’ have increased the Mexican salvia’s following among gardeners.

Salvia ‘Maroon’ Salvia uliginosa. Credit: Vikki Rimmer

Pollinators love the delicate flowers of the Mexican salvia. If you look closely at them, you may see little ‘bore’ holes where bees have drilled through for the sweet nectar.

Top Mexican salvia varieties

Watch as Vikki Rimmer takes you through the impressive collection of Mexican salvias at Great Comp Gardens, Kent:

William Dyson’s favourite salvia varieties

1. Salvia × jamensis ‘Peter Vidgeon’

This salvia was bred by the incredible Robin Middleton, who sadly passed away at the start of the year.

Growing to a height of 75cms, Peter Videgeon has deep green leaves and pale, lilac-pink flowers.

2. Salvia ‘So Cool Pale Blue’

The result of a breeding programme by Plant Growers Australia, this plant has trialled on our nursery in Sevenoaks since 2014.

Salvia ‘So Cool Pale Blue’ has a mesmerising blue colour that is unique among the Mexican shrubby varieties. It grows to a height of 50cms.

Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’. Credit: Vikki Rimmer

3. Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’

This superb new hybrid arose at Hans Kramer’s Dutch nursery, De Hessenhof. It produces dark maroon-purple flowers over a long period.

Nachtvlinder is very drought tolerant and hardy in most areas, if given full sun and good drainage. It wll bush out and grow in height to 75cm.

4. Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’

Raised on my nursery at Great Comp Garden in Sevenoaks, this bi-coloured hybrid has a compact habit and produces copious quantities of flowers from May to November.

The plant is drought tolerant and hardy in most areas, if given full sun and good drainage. It grows to 60cm in height.

Mexican salvias can be viewed at Great Comp Garden in Platt, near Sevenoaks. The garden is open daily from March – October.

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Zone This refers to the USDA hardiness zone assigned to each part of the country, based on the minimum winter temperature that a region typically experiences. Hardiness zone ranges are provided for all perennial plants and you should always choose plants that fall within your range.

Sun The amount of sunlight this product needs daily in order to perform well in the garden. Full sun means 6 hours of direct sun per day partial sun means 2-4 hours of direct sun per day shade means little or no direct sun.

Height The typical height of this product at maturity.

Spread The width of the plant at maturity.

Bloom Season The time of the year when this product normally blooms.

Resistant To Adverse garden conditions, such as heat or frost, deer or rabbits, that this product can tolerate well.

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Salvia: Indoor or Direct Sow or Potted Plant Perennial

How to Sow and Plant Salvia

Salvia may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, sown directly in the garden in summer, or grown from potted plants.

Sowing Salvia Seed Indoors:

  • Sow indoors 10-12 weeks before the last frost.
  • Barely press the seeds into seed starting formula.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist at 70 degrees F.
  • Seedlings emerge in 15-21 days.
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • If you are growing salvia in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
  • Before planting salvia out in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Sowing Salvia Directly in the Garden:

  • Direct sow after all danger of frost in full sun in a well-drained but moisture retentive soil
  • Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil then level and smooth.
  • Sow seeds evenly and thinly and barely cover with fine soil.
  • Keep evenly moist.
  • Seedlings will emerge in 15-21 days.
  • Thin to 12-18 inches apart when seedlings are about 2 inches tall.

Planting Potted Salvia Plants:

  • Select a location in full sun in a well-drained but moisture retentive soil
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12 inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.

How to Grow Salvia

  • Keep weeds under control during the salvia growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their germination.
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For perennials, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Careful watering is essential in getting salvia perennials off to a good start. Water thoroughly at least once a week to help new roots grow down deeply. Soil should be damp at about 1 inch below the soil surface. You can check this by sticking your finger in the soil. Water early in the morning to give all leaves enough time to dry. One inch of rain or watering per week is recommended for most perennial plants. You can check to see if you need to add water by using a rain gauge.
  • Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary. Good air movement is also important.
  • After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
  • “Deadhead”, remove spent flower heads to encourage continuous flowering and prevent seed development.
  • Remove and discard foliage after a hard frost in fall.
  • In colder regions, apply another layer of mulch (1-2 inches) after the ground freezes in fall. Evergreen boughs (from Christmas trees) provide additional protection. Remove this mulch in the spring.

Salvia Growing Tips

  • Many gardeners do not cut back perennial flower seed heads in the fall, but wait until early spring before the new foliage appears. This provides food for wildlife over the winter.
  • These versatile, colorful plants are widely grown in mixed borders, formal mass plantings, wildflower gardens, cottage gardens, and containers.
  • Salvias make great cut flowers.

Growing Salvia with a Seed Starting Kit

Plants→Salvias→Blackcurrant Sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips')

Common names:
(2) Blackcurrant Sage
(1) Cherry Sage
(1) Little Leaf Sage
Delta Sage

Also sold as:
Salvia x jamensis 'Hot Lips'

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit: Herb/Forb
Life cycle: Perennial
Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Water Preferences: Mesic
Dry Mesic
Minimum cold hardiness: Zone 7a -17.8 °C (0 °F) to -15 °C (5 °F)
Maximum recommended zone: Zone 9b
Plant Spread : 24-36 inches
Leaves: Fragrant
Flowers: Showy
Flower Color: Bi-Color: Red and white
Other: Sometimes all red, and sometimes all white.
Bloom Size: Under 1"
Flower Time: Late spring or early summer
Late summer or early fall
Late fall or early winter
Other: Deadheading flowers ensures more flowering throughout the season.
Inflorescence Height : 36 inches
Foliage Mound Height : 24 inches
Suitable Locations: Xeriscapic
Uses: Suitable as Annual
Wildlife Attractant: Bees
Resistances: Deer Resistant
Rabbit Resistant
Drought tolerant
Propagation: Seeds: Will not come true from seed
Propagation: Other methods: Cuttings: Stem
Containers: Suitable in 3 gallon or larger
Needs excellent drainage in pots
Awards and Recognitions: RHS AGM
Child plants: one child plant

We open the Salvias Celebration Week with a look at the top cultivars, top comments, most thumbed images, and more!

I love Hot Lips. Even here in Zone 5B. It winters over indoors without missing a beat.
The flower form is neat in that it can be all white, all pink or some combination. Some of the coloration is caused by temperature changes, so a new flush may be different. On my plants, I often have all 3 color schemes at the same time.

Very easy to grow from cuttings. I have taken them at various times, and they always take. But I usually do it in Fall when I am cutting the plant back to bring inside.

This is an amazing plant. When I bought it the flowers were bicolor: red and white. The same plant later on produced entirely white flowers, and now the first blooms in late May-June are entirely red. It proved to be very tough too, having gone through a very severe winter with long periods of hard frosts without damage. It is very drought resistant too.

My favorite plant in my garden, it blooms almost non-stop here in zone 8 from spring till frost, the blooms cover every bit of it, and it attracts the hummers like crazy. Anywhere I take this plant with me, I'm sure to make some winged friends. I've tried providing them with other hummer-friendly plants, but they always prefer Hot Lips. A small start will quickly grow into a large shrub in two seasons. I think everyone should grow this plant!

I had this plant last year in 2010 but it is not hardy in my zone as it died over the winter. Too bad as it is a prolific bloomer that was in bloom when I bought it early spring and it stayed covered in blooms until a hard frost.

I have this plant in a container near my front porch and the hummingbirds visit it often. It has produced mostly solid red blossoms with just a few bicolor ones.

I have not found any seeds on this plant all summer, though I see that @duane456 posted a photo of seeds. Does it really set seeds? My salvia coral nymph is setting seeds fast now that the weather has cooled and days are getting so short, but I see none on Hot Lips.

I love this Salvia! Great grower too. Love the red and white combo flowers! Attracts hummers, butterflies, and bees. It's great in a container. A joy to grow and is long blooming.

I love growing this plant, as it looks different as the season goes on. I do find that it does not like as much sun as some of my other salvias. It sulks in full sun for me, so I had to move it to an area with filtered sun. It looks much better with the move.

A great plant, though I have to trim it back a few times each year, otherwise it would take over my flower bed. I've seen quite a few pollinators show interest in the blooms. It's also pretty easy to start from cuttings.

The Chelone lyonii perennial requires moist soil, and prefers to be planted where it can receive partial shade. After removing the plant from the container, loosen the bottom of the root ball using your hands and place it in a hole that is twice as wide, but no deeper than the pot it came in. If the area receives strong winds, the flowers may need to be staked. Backfill with a mix of the original soil and compost.

Craving nutrients, the Chelone lyonii ppreciates a mulch made up of organic material such as leaves or pine needles. This is especially important when planted in sunny areas where the soil is likely to dry out quicker. Applying a mulch around (but not touching) the base of the plant will help retain moisture in the soil.

Growing tips

Salvia Growing Tips

  • Many gardeners do not cut back perennial flower seed heads in the fall, but wait until early spring before the new foliage appears. This provides food for wildlife over the winter.
  • These versatile, colorful plants are widely grown in mixed borders, formal mass plantings, wildflower gardens, cottage gardens, and containers.
  • Salvias make great cut flowers.

Growing Salvia with a Seed Starting Kit

Salvia Plants & Seeds Available at Burpee

  • Salvia, Black & Blue
  • Salvia, Lighthouse Purple
  • Salvia, Wendy's Wish
  • Salvia, Amistad
  • Salvia, Cathedral Series
  • Salvia Verticillata, Purple Fairy Tale
  • Salvia, Hot Lips
  • Salvia, Arctic Blaze Purple
  • Salvia Canariensis, Steely Wings
  • Salvia Farinacea, Sallyfun Blue Emotion
  • Salvia, Victoria

You May Also Like

Following the popularity of Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, comes the introduction of 2 new colours to the trendy ‘Lips’ series. A profusion of bicolour blooms make a showy display from summer through to autumn. Blackcurrant scented foliage adds to the appeal of these trendy plants. Salvia ‘Lips’ Collection are drought tolerant once established, and the nectar rich blooms are loved by pollinating insects. With a dense, bushy habit they are perfect for patio pots, and make an eye-catching focal point at the front of beds and borders. Although hardy perennial, these Salvias will appreciate some protection from winter weather. Height: 90cm (35"). Spread: 60cm (24").

    Collection comprises:
  • Salvia ‘Hot Lips’
  • Salvia 'Cherry Lips'
  • Salvia 'Amethyst Lips'

9 salvia jumbo plug plants (KB8513)
3 salvia jumbo plug plants (KB8512)

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Thompson & Morgan strives to ensure that all its plants are delivered to you in the perfect condition for planting. Sadly, the time it takes to deliver to certain locations in the UK means that we can't guarantee this, so regretfully we are unable to ship live plants to the following areas: HS, IV41-IV49, IV51, IV55-56, KW15-KW17, PA34, PA41-48, PA60-PA78, PA80, PH40-PH44, TR21-TR24, ZE1-ZE3

Watch the video: Hummingbird at Hot Lips Salvia. 17

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