Does anyone recognize this variety? Is it normal for sage to have a woody base?

Also, could you recommend how to prune it please? It has been abandoned for years. leaf-face leafb tree

EDIT: Adding close ups. enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

EDIT 2: Adding soil analysis. soil analysis

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  • I note you've added the Houseplant tag - is this actually growing indoors because it looks like its outside? Does it smell like sage? Because it might be an altogether different plant - have you ever seen it in flower, and if so, what colour were they? And what part of the world are you in?
    – Bamboo
    Dec 13, 2018 at 23:21
  • @Bamboo, apologies, I misinterpreted the tag. The tree is in a semi arid region in north Africa (Tunisia). It does have a distinct smell, it's a combination of sage smell but with a pinch of peppermint too, it's quiet hard to describe. I vaguely remember the color of the flowers, but I can't find anything close on google. It wasn't a typical sage flower but more like grayish dark violet. What's crazy is that when I googled peppermint tree, I found out that "Agonis flexuosa" is an Australian tree with a very similar looking bark.
    – ammoun
    Dec 13, 2018 at 23:51
  • Well I asked a silly question really - Jerusalem sage does smell vaguely sage like anyway! But if the flowers were purple, that rules out Phlomis - there is a purple flowered one, Phlomis tuberosa, but the leaves don't look quite the same as your plant. Be good to see a photo of it in flower at some point... but can you remember what size and shape the flowers were?
    – Bamboo
    Dec 14, 2018 at 0:06
  • I'm afraid I don't have any photos with the flowers, we're gonna have to wait few months I guess. But I will ask my father tomorrow although he never really cared about it. Maybe they are indeed yellow and the smell is making me think of mint flowers. Possible!
    – ammoun
    Dec 14, 2018 at 0:17
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    Oh my, one or two years ago I have read a question on this site where a user tried to find an ID for a plant in North Africa and the plant was said to be similar to sage or something like this. I don't remember the answer, I just recall it was a difficult id.
    – Alina
    Dec 14, 2018 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


I'm not convinced this is Salvia officinalis, or 'white sage', or a Salvia at all - the leaves are not long enough for S. officinalis, and it is unlikely to form a trunk in this way, however old it is. I think it's Phlomis fruticosa, common name Jerusalem Sage. Whilst all parts of the plant are edible, it is not usually used for seasoning food, but grown more for ornamental purposes.

Clearly, this one is very old and has been pruned back hard in the past, leaving a single, woody stem which is unusual and quite attractive. It flowers in spring on growth from the previous year, producing long, upright stems with a tiered arrangement of yellow flowers, so there might be 3 flowers, one above the other up the stem. Prune it at the wrong time, and any parts that would have flowered will be cut off, so it should only be pruned immediately after it has flowered. More information here, though there is no image of the flowers http://www.georgiaperennial.org/newsletter/article001/

  • Very informative! I think you hit the spot. I will wait for the flowers to confirm the color, but everything you said is matching. I hope @stormy won't hate me for taking the answer tag from him, I promise I will give it back if the flowers don't turn out yellow :)
    – ammoun
    Dec 14, 2018 at 0:26
  • Ha ha, that made me laugh - you can leave the tick with her now anyway, if you like, I really don't mind, especially as we're not 100% sure about the flowers...
    – Bamboo
    Dec 14, 2018 at 0:27
  • Not to worry about little old stormy, trust me. The point is to ID and everyone learns...gee that is ain't easy to ID using just pictures. This is NOT a competition...grins! Jerusalem sage I've grown and am quite familiar with...this could very well be Phlomis not Salvia! Interesting to find what color the flowers are...or any other information! I just hope the pruning answer is helpful, as that will work with both Genera.
    – stormy
    Dec 14, 2018 at 7:22
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    Send Bamboo a ticket to visit? She's the closest I think...grins!!
    – stormy
    Dec 15, 2018 at 21:29
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    Those test people should tell you how many chunks of soil and how deep. Don't go any deeper than 6". It is the topsoil that is critical. 4 to 6" is perfect. That photo shows Nitrogen or Iron (ha ha) deficiency...Or a few other fertilizer/chemistry deficiencies. I am far more concerned about the pH of the soil especially for your entire chunk of land and what is happening. Investing in a nut orchard will not be cheap. Purple flowers....
    – stormy
    Jan 12, 2019 at 23:36

I've never seen a sage tree! Is that some sort of graft at the bottom of the trunk near the soil? Would love to see a close up.

This is simply sage; White Sage. Salvia apiana. Depending on the amount of light a sage plant receives the color shape of leaves can look very different from one plant to another. White Sage

I would love to help you prune this little tree! What side of the house is this? Think of a Bonsai look. You go in and thin cutting out branches that are shaded. This will also help with ventilation, air flow. You'll be able to see more branching, little peek a boos of structure.

Using a good pair of bypass pruning shears, not the anvil type, cleaned with alcohol and sharpened (Felco makes the best) cut out branches flush at the main branch and branches. Keep the cutting blade closest to the main trunk/branch. You have to turn the shears so that the cutting blade is held closest to the live trunk/branch. If you are right handed with right handed shears cutting a branch from that trunk on the right side of that trunk, the cutting blade will be to your left. The other blade to your right. This helps to maintain a clean cut leaving less of the old branch. By having the non cutting blade next to the trunk, that added thickness will cause the stump of the branch left to be too long.

Anvil type pruners actually mash the vascular system and can cause possible disease or poor cuts with the 'stump' left being too large.

Never cut more than a third of a plant off in one session. Focus on removing plant material that is not helping the plant because those branches are in the shade of other leaves and not able to do much photosynthesis, so those branches are actually causing the plant to use up more energy for maintenance of that branch and leaves than that branch of leaves can support in return. Eventually the plant itself will kill off branches/leaves that are not able to hold their 'weight' in production; the branch is requiring more energy for maintenance than what that branch is capable of producing in photosynthesis. "Free Loader"?

Cut any branch that crosses other branches or is growing toward the center of the plant. Cut branches off that have stems obviously smaller than the branches getting sun. Cut off branches that are broken or dying or dead.

Do a little now and take pictures to send back? After removing a few internal branches, using your shears you will now be 'heading back'. This means you will be nipping the very ends of the branches taking off 2 or three sets of leaves at a snip. At the ends of branches are the apical buds. Most of a branches' energy is right there wanting to grow longer to get at the light. By cutting this off that energy is temporarily allowed to go down the branch to the lateral buds. More energy to make healthier leaves and branches that you are leaving behind to do the most effective job with photosynthesis and a healthier looking plant as well.

By thinning out the non producing branches, tipping the remaining branches you will be able to maintain the size of this little tree and reduce the growth of roots so close to your foundation. When in doubt, don't cut. Send pictures of your progress. Keep soil and mulch away from the bottom of this trunk, like you are already doing. Do not over water. If you have never fertilized this plant with a balanced fertilizer now would be a good time. Equal numbers, Osmocote all purpose 14-14-14 at half the directed amount is very safe and lasts a good 6 months to a year.

Sage is a woody perennial, so yes, most mature Sage will have a trunk of sorts. This one is very old and very special. If there is anything I've said that is confusing please ask! If you don't already have your own bypass pruners that you know how to sharpen, look up Felco. These pruners will last a lifetime with proper care. One of the few companies where you can buy a new replacement blade. If you don't know how to sharpen we can walk you through that as well. That cutting blade is only sharpened on one side, burred off on the outside of the blade. Like scissors. Proper sharpening stone or file. I am very glad you saw the possibilities of this plant! Ground cover around this little tree would be a great next question. Do you have a basement? Is this wall concrete foundation?

Note added: The other thing about heading or tipping the branches also removes weight from the end of a branch. Some of these branches could use more than just tipping, they could use (wish I knew metrics better) 6" or more taken off. The fourth picture down looking from above you can see that the mass of foliage leaning into the home needs to be thinned. Entire branches holding that foliage should come off at the main branch. Any branch that is aimed at the home, or concrete wall, should come off the main branch feeding those branchlets. The mass growing away from the wall should be headed back by cutting the size of that clump back to fit the size of the rest of the entire tree.

Let's do the pruning in small amounts sending us pictures as you go. You can wait to do the pruning to do whenever it is best for you. I'd write another question apart from the ID anyway. Is that a little balcony? Is this tree viewed from above more than the side? Down the line we could talk about ground cover or a 'foundation' planting. Does it rain profusely when it rains? What is that mass of what looks like burlap? Stay in touch!

Please send the analysis of that soil!! I missed that bit of information. Soil tests are rare and you've already got one done? Good job Ammoun, seriously!

Additional note: Phlomis fruticosa Phlomis italica Phlomis with gray purple flowers

I am trying to see any hint of seed capsule, such as this one I am attaching, in the debris on the soil around your little tree. I am not saying it is this species at all, just hate to waste that debris on the ground?

  • I'm super thrilled by your post! I can't thank you enough but I'm happy that I'm at least giving you the chance to see a Sage tree for the first time. If it wasn't already dark right now, I would have got the close up for you. Yes that strange foot shape is indeed the trunk. A detail that I missed mentioning is that this is growing in my parents house on the Mediterranean (Tunisia). My dad can't even remember when it was planted but I can certify that it was never watered. Besides when I analyzed the soil, it was very poor, I can share the results with you. The wall is concrete...
    – ammoun
    Dec 13, 2018 at 23:31
  • I'll be looking out for your close up. The Mediterranean? No wonder it is a very happy, long lived sage plant able to become a little tree! Yay!
    – stormy
    Dec 14, 2018 at 2:56
  • I just edited the main post, feel free to ask for any other angle. By the way, my dad couldn't remember the exact color of the flowers, he said they're barely visible (Maybe as he has been pruning at the wrong time) but he agreed that they were on the dark side as opposed to yellow.
    – ammoun
    Dec 14, 2018 at 14:59
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    Oh you are so bad. Ummm, I am happy losing a tick to Bamboo or anyone! Oh my goodness, I am giggling! How long have you lived in this home? I wish I was more computer literate to be able to do interactive videos. You have plenty of time. I just think you might or your dad would remember yellow. That picture WAS of Phlomis, there are purple cultivars. My point being we need something else for a positive ID. Phlomis is native, that holds an awful lot of weight! I'll go check out your analysis!
    – stormy
    Dec 16, 2018 at 2:18
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    This analysis shows exceedingly high pH, alkaline, which also falls in line with extra high calcium. This plant is just fine with this soil, obviously. Considering companion planting this information is vital. Needs more organic matter but right now that soil makes this plant happy.
    – stormy
    Dec 16, 2018 at 2:25

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