General: Mint family (Lamiaceae). Chia is native to western North America. The plants can vary greatly in size depending on moisture availability ranging, in both height and diameter, from 3 to 4 cm under very dry conditions to 60 cm under optimal conditions. The thick, wrinkled leaves (10 to 15 cm long) are dark green and deeply lobed with a thin covering of fine, soft, grayish hairs on the upper surface. Leaves grow predominantly from the basal area of the plant with smaller leaves growing up the stems. Several stems emerge from the base of the plant, each bearing from one to four interrupted (2 to 3 cm apart) button-like whorls of tiny, tubular flowers (6-16mm). The pale blue to deep blue flowers have two lips; the white-tipped lower lip is cleft into three lobes, with the central lobe slightly larger in size. Several contrasting leafy, burgundy-colored bracts subtend the flower heads. A spiny tip protrudes from a central notch in each bract. Each flower results in up to 13 tiny, gray to light brown, flat seeds 1.5-2mm in length.
Flowers bloom in late spring or early summer, from March through June in California. As the season progresses, the blossoms dry and turn from clear blue to golden, and remain dry upon their stems. The tiny seeds disperse by shaking out of the dry blossoms.
Distribution: Chia’s native range extends through the coastal and inner coast ranges of California from Mendocino County in the north to Baja in the south. Chia grows throughout southern California and into adjacent areas of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Northwestern Mexico. Chia was once more common in many of its native areas, but its populations have declined due to overgrazing, urban development, and fire suppression (Timbrook et al. 1982).
For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: Chia is a member of the foothill woodland, coastal sage scrub and chaparral communities in California, where it sometimes forms extensive stands (Bean & Saubel 1972). It can be found in the open, exposed grassy areas of woodlands, in sandy washes, dry, open plains, hillsides and gravelly, disturbed sites. It is commonly found at elevations below 1200 meters but is known to grow in some areas up to 2100 meters (Munz & Keck 1963).
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