Meiotic and mitotic chromosomes of 13 species of Salvia from Argentina were studied. Most of our data are new counts but some, mainly from cultivated species, confirm previous reports or represent numbers which are different from those cited previously. Only Salvia gilliesii Benth. and the introduced species S. coccinea Juss., S. farinacea Benth., S. involucrata Cav. and S. microphylla Kunth are diploids. S. cardiophylla Benth., S. procurrens Benth., S. splendens Roem. & Schult. and S. uliginosa Benth. are tetraploids; S. stachydifolia Benth. is hexaploid; and S. guaranitica A. St.-Hil., S. pallida Benth. and S. rypara Briq. are octoploids. The basic number most frequently found is x = 11, but two species, S. procurrens and S. uliginosa, have x = 13. S. farinacea has x = 10 but this species is a widespread cultivated plant, not native in this area. Seven of the studied species showed one to three B chromosomes. We discuss some systematic and evolutionary aspects of the genus in the light of the cytogenetic data, the relationships between geographical distribution and chromosome numbers in relation to levels of ploidy and basic chromosome numbers, and make comparisons with some of the different taxonomic sections. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 141, 483–490.