A long-lived perennial herb of unimproved grassland, lane-sides, road verges and disturbed ground on well-drained soils overlying chalk and limestone. It is occasionally established from gardens or as a casual in waste places. Lowland.
S. pratensis was not recorded from the wild until 1699, but was known to Elizabethan gardeners, and its native status has often been questioned. Most of the losses of native sites seem to have taken place before 1950, and there is little evidence for a significant decline in recent years. Introductions also appear to be decreasing.
European Temperate element.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 36
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 1
Atlas Change Index: -0.75
RDB Species Accounts
Salvia pratensis L. (Lamiaceae)
Meadow clary, Saets y Waun
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Nationally Scarce. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
This species grows on shallow well-drained calcareous soil derived from chalk or oolitic limestone, most often in herb-rich unimproved grassland on flat to steeply-sloping sites with a southerly to westerly aspect. Grazed pastures and meadows are the usual habitats, but it also occurs on grassy lane-sides, road verges, and on disturbed ground. Managed grasslands are preferred. It occurs in short-grazed chalk and limestone grasslands in which Briza media, Festuca ovina, Helictotrichon pratense, Leontodon hispidus, Linum catharticum, Scabiosa columbaria and Thymus polytrichus are prominent. It is also found in ranker grasslands dominated by Bromopsis erecta, Brachypodium pinnatum or Arrhenatherum elatius (perhaps indicating a relaxation of grazing), amongst scrub, and in woodland edges.
S. pratensis is an imposing long-lived perennial with stems up to a metre tall bearing heads of large violet-blue flowers. Populations often contain a small percentage of male-sterile plants in which stamens are aborted, and those plants have much smaller flowers. The peak flowering period is from late May to early July. The flowers are visited mainly by bumble-bees. A high proportion of seed is set, even in late-flowering male-sterile plants, suggesting that hermaphrodite plants are substantially outcrossed. Seedlings establish freely where disturbance or stress creates gaps in the sward. Vegetative reproduction appears to be good at some sites, and rooting from the nodes of decumbent stems has been observed. Dormant buds on the rootstock develop rapidly if the main stem is damaged by grazing or cutting.
S. pratensis is accepted as native or probably native in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire and Berkshire, but is no longer present in the last county. Since 1990 it has been recorded at 27 sites, eleven of which are accepted as native, with a further nine possibly native (Rich 1996b). The four largest British populations are in Oxfordshire (comprising 4,000-5,000; 1,300; 400; 300 plants), and that county remains its stronghold. Three other populations (in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Sussex) hold more than a hundred plants, but all the others are dismally small, ranging from a few tens of plants down to a singleton. However, single isolated plants can survive for long periods, perhaps as long as 30 years (Rich, Lambrick & McNab, in press). It is widely scattered in southern England as a probable or certain introduction (Rich 1995d).
Short swards maintained by rabbit-grazing provide favourable conditions for seedling establishment, and suitable niches include rabbit scrapes and small mammal runs. Establishment is generally unsuccessful in rank grassland where litter or moss has accumulated (for instance under Brachypodium pinnatum or scrub), and where plants are cut or intensively grazed before seed-set. Grassland management holds the key to the survival of this species, but an ideal regime may not be easy to achieve. Sites should preferably be grazed at high stocking density in spring, with livestock withdrawn in early May to allow flowering shoots to develop, then reintroduced in late July or early August after seed has ripened. Spring grazing is especially important to control aggressive grasses, especially Brachypodium pinnatum. Hay meadows should be cut in late July or early August to allow a good proportion of seed to ripen. It appears to be able to survive vegetatively for many years, and so can tolerate an unsympathetic regime for a while. But if cutting or grazing regularly prevents the production of seed, in the absence of vegetative reproduction populations can be expected to decline as plants age. Likewise, plants can survive in rank unmanaged grassland, but in the longer term are unlikely to remain. Regular scrub control is necessary at many sites. Detailed studies of its ecology are underway as part of 'recovery' programmes.
It is a southern-continental species, reaching its north-western limit in Britain, and extending from Morocco and the Pyrenees to Turkey and the Urals. It is rare in northern Europe and Scandinavia. Genetic investigations of some populations of S. pratensis are described by Ouborg & van Treuren (1994; 1995), and indicate some genetic erosion there. Its ecology and conservation are discussed in Scott (1989).
M. J. Wigginton
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1995. The conservation of scarce and declining plant species in lowland Wales: population genetics, demographic ecology and recommendations for future conservation in 32 species of lowland grassland and related habitats. (Science Report No. 110).
1978. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Rich et al (1999b)
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.