Meadow clary (Salvia pratensis)

Meadow clary in flower
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Meadow clary fact file

Meadow clary description

GenusSalvia (1)

Meadow clary is an attractive herb (1), which produces striking deep blue to violet hooded flowers. These are 20 to 30 millimetres long, and held aloft on a long raceme (a flower spike upon which the individual flowers have stalks), which may reach 80 centimetres in height (2). Some populations contain male-sterile plants, which have smaller flowers (4). The leaves are a rich, dark green colour and have a crinkled upper surface (2).

Height: 50-80 cm (2)

Meadow clary biology

This long-lived perennial species mainly flowers from late May to early July (4). Flowers are pollinated by insects (1), bumblebees are the main visitors (4), and a large amount of seed is produced (1). The seeds, which are released after mid-July, are able to remain dormant in the soil for at least a year (1). Seedlings become established where gaps of bare soil open up in the sward, such as worm casts and rabbit scrapes, and areas grazed by rabbits seem to provide good conditions for seedling establishment (1). Vegetative reproduction is also known to occur (4), and single plants are able to persist for at least 30 years (4).

The seeds of meadow clary were used in the past to remove particles from eyes and to reduce inflammation or redness (7); indeed the name 'clary' is derived from 'clear-eye' (1). It was also used as a gargle for sore throats, and to clean teeth (1).


Meadow clary range

This species was once found in Britain from Lincolnshire south to Dorset, but is currently known from less than 30 sites (3). The main areas are the North and South Downs, the Chilterns, the Wiltshire plains and limestone areas of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire (1); the main stronghold of the species is the Cotswolds (5). It has also been introduced to many sites (1). Elsewhere it is distributed from Morocco and the Pyrenees in the south, to Britain in the north and Turkey and the Urals in the east (4). It rare in northern Europe and Scandinavia (6), reaching as far north as southern Sweden (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Meadow clary habitat

Typically grows on unimproved calcareous or neutral grasslands (1) such as pastures grazed by sheep or cattle, meadows, roadsides, woodland edges and scrub (2).


Meadow clary status

Classified as Lower Risk - nationally scarce by the British Red Data Book (1), but should now be considered Nationally Scarce (1). Fully protected by Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).


Meadow clary threats

Loss of the prefered unimproved grassland habitat, unsuitable management (4), scrub invasion, and intensification of agricultural practices including the use of chemical herbicides and fertilisers, are possible threats (4).


Meadow clary conservation

Meadow clary is included in Plantlife's 'Back From The Brink' programme, and is listed under English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. A Species Action Plan has been produced, and work to date to help this plant includes scrub clearance, soil disturbance, experimental grazing which resulted in an increase in the number of plants at one site, and supplementation of small populations in order to bolster their numbers (1) (3). The Cotswold Rare Plants Group works closely with Plantlife in monitoring and conserving this beautiful species (8). In addition, meadow clary seeds have been collected for the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more



Information jointly authenticated by Tim Rich of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and Plantlife.



Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
An inflorescence where the individual flowers all have distinct stalks. (See <link></link> for a fact sheet on flower structure).
Vegetative reproduction
Type of asexual reproduction (reproduction without recombination of genetic material) that results in the propagation of plants using only the vegetative tissues such as leaves or stems. The resulting plant is genetically identical to the original plant. A well-known example of this is the reproduction of strawberry plants from 'runners'.


  1. Rich, T.C.G., Lambrick, C.R. and McNab, C. (1999) Conservation of Britain’s Biodiversity: Salvia pratensis L. (Lamiaceae), Meadow Clary. Watsonia, 22: 405 - 411.
  2. Grey-Wilson, C. (1994) Eyewitness Handbooks: Wild Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. Plantlife (September, 2008)
  4. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd, Oxford.
  5. Byfield, A. (2002) Pers. comm.
  6. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (March, 2002)
  7. Wigginton, M.J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition. JNCC, Peterborough.
  8. Dunn, J. (2003) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Meadow clary in flower  
Meadow clary in flower

© Bob Gibbons / Natural Image

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