Wild Sage (Salvia verbenaca), a Mediterranean steppe perennial introduced to Australia as a casual medicinal herb and a likely contaminant of imported seed or stock.
Possibly recorded in Victoria as early as 1870, Wild Sage had established across southeastern Australia by the 1880s and 1890s, when it was collected at Dubbo, Swan Hill and other interior sites. The 1897 NSW Agricultural Gazette described the species as ‘well established in many of the cooler parts of the Colony… a worthless, spreading weed, but not poisonous.’ By the outset of the 20th century it had been recorded in vicinity to Melbourne, at Melton and Broadmeadows.
Wild Sage identifications appeared repeatedly in local newspapers across country Victoria in the early 20th c., with columnists expressing alarm at the recent spread of this and other weeds across the north and west of the state and conveying assessments from the Department of Agriculture that labeled it ‘a coarse perennial, useless as a fodder plant, that should not be allowed to spread. It should be hoed up and burnt before flowering, and the root also removed from the soil.’
Despite the attention, seeds of the plant continued to spread on muddy vehicles, animals and boots; a 1931 column in the Weekly Times declared stridently ‘Plough the land deeply and pull out the roots. Burn them immediately.’
Proclaimed noxious in the early 1930s, the usual difference of opinion followed, with some graziers maintaining (conveniently) that their stock would eat the plant and that it ‘did not spread to any appreciable extent.’ Some local councils (Coburg, Echuca) pushed back, calling it ‘a notorious spreader’ ‘that no stock could eat’; others (Wimmera, Melton) had the proclamation revoked.
An effective invader of disturbed and compacted sites such as tracks and road edges, Wild Sage remains common across the north and west of Victoria, with a similar distribution within Melbourne. The photographed plants are part of a long-standing population on exposed north and west-facing escarpments above the Merri Creek in Fairfield.