Caring For Cerinthe: What Is Cerinthe Blue Shrimp Plant

There is a fun little plant with vibrant bluish purple flowers and leaves that change colors. Cerinthe is the grown-up name, but it is also called the Pride of Gibraltar and the blue shrimp plant. What is Cerinthe? Cerinthe is a Mediterranean species perfect for moderate environments. Growing Cerinthe plants require USDA plant hardiness zones 7 to 10. This versatile little guy might be the right choice to brighten up your garden.

What is Cerinthe?

In addition to its other names, Cerinthe is also known as honeywort or wax flower from the Greek ‘keros’ for wax and ‘anthos’ for flower. The plant is an herb related to borage, but the foliage is not as thickly haired. Instead, Cerinthe has thick greenish-gray foliage with softly rounded edges. New leaves are marbled with white, which disappears after the leaves mature. The leaves alternate in whorls up the stem in an attractive pattern.

The Cerinthe blue shrimp plant (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’) may be an annual in colder climes, or a half hardy perennial. The flowers are tiny and insignificant but are covered by colorful bracts. The bracts deepen into a bluer hue as nighttime temperatures cool. During the day they are a lighter purple tone. These herbs grow 2 to 4 feet tall and are perfect in beds, borders and pots.

Growing Cerinthe Plants

The Cerinthe blue shrimp plant is easy to start from seed. Soak the seeds overnight and start them indoors four to six weeks before the last frost. Plant the herb outside in April in most zones.

Cerinthe plant care includes a , full to partial sun and moderate water. Potted plants require more water than in-ground plants. The herb is slightly drought tolerant but produces the best flower display when the plant is kept moist but not soggy.

Caring for Cerinthe

This is an easy-to-grow plant and Cerinthe plant care rates on the low to moderate scale. This herb will even flourish in rich soil with little to no maintenance.

Once you have an established plant, self-seeding ensures a ready supply of plants every year. Outdoor plants will tend to reseed or you can collect seeds, dry them and save them for the next season. Harvest seeds in fall and save them in envelopes until early spring.

You can trim back rangy stems, if you wish, to force a more compact plant. Stake tall plants or use a peony ring to keep stems upright.

Once the plant experiences a hard freeze, it will die. In more temperate zones, remove the parent plant in winter and lightly mulch over the seeds. Fluff the soil in spring and the seeds should germinate and produce a new batch of Cerinthe blue shrimp plants.

Use a diluted plant food once a month when caring for Cerinthe in pots.

Honeywort Cerinthe Major Purpurascens Seeds

Honeywort Cerinthe Major Purpurascens is a tender perennial native to the Mediterranean region. Honeywort seeds are very easy to grow, and the plant is generally treated and grown as an annual. Other common names of this plant are Blue Shrimp Plant, Blue Wax Flower, Blue Kiwi, and Pride of Gibraltar. Honeywort has attractive gray-green foliage with oval, eucalypt-like leaves that turn themselves to dark-blue bracts at the top of the plant creating a striking background for protruding clusters of purple-blue tubular, nodding flowers. Blue Shrimp Plant blooms all summer and well into fall producing sweetly scented, rich in nectar flowers that are highly attractive to honeybees and hummingbirds.
Honeywort makes a fantastic, unique-looking border plant and is a wonderful choice for containers or pots. Cerinthe Major Purpurascens seeds have to be covered with soil and kept moist until germination, and Honeywort grows best in full sun or partial shade, and fertile, moist, well-drained soil tolerating drought and heat. Honeywort makes a memorable, somewhat exotic in appearance cut flower. Blue Wax Flower re-seeds itself freely, so it will show up year after year in any hardiness zone.

Sow Indoors: Spring (6-8 weeks before last frost)
Sow Outdoors: Spring
Seed Depth: 1/8 Inch
Germination Time: 14-21 Days

Honeywort is grown as an annual in the Midwest

Honeywort, Cerinthe major, is an herbaceous plant native to open meadows and grassy plains of the Mediterranean basin, especially in southern Italy and Greece. The name Cerinthe comes from the Greek keros for wax and anthos for flower, since at one time it was thought bees got wax for their hives from the flowers. This species is an unusual member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), in that it does not have hairy foliage like most family members do. It is variously classified as a hardy annual, a tender evergreen perennial, or a shortlived, half-hardy perennial or biennial. As a Mediterranean plant its normal habit is to grow in winter, bloom in spring, set seed and die, and then the seed germinates in fall. But in other parts of the country it is typically grown as a summer annual.

The flowers are borne on the ends of nodding stems.

This unusual flower has been grown in gardens since the middle ages, but was not prominent in Victorian or Edwardian gardens. Even today it is not commonly offered commercially in the U.S. The plants are not particularly stunning from a distance; the enchanting flowers are best appreciated up close as the coloring is rather subtle. The variety ‘Purpurascens’ is the most commonly available type and was selected for its stronger coloration than the species.

This plant has handsome foliage and colorful bracts that long outlast the small flowers. The rounded, partially perfoliate (leaves encircle the stem) leaves are somewhat fleshy, glaucous (smooth, not hairy), and pale green-gray to blue in color. They arise in whorls along branching stems. The new growth is mottled with white; this marbling fades with age. The leaves get a deeper blue as night temperatures get lower later in the season. Plants vary considerably in size and form depending on the conditions they are grown under. In full sun and rich soils they can grow tall enough (2-4 feet) to require staking to keep them upright. In drier and less fertile soil, or in light shade, the plants tend to be more compact, reaching only about 18” tall. The foliage remains in good shape until a hard freeze.

Colorful bracts surround tubular purple flowers.

The tubular flowers are borne in clusters of two or three surrounded by large, almost heart-shaped, nodding bracts. The one inch long flowers produce honey-flavored nectar, probably leading to its common name. In the wild the species varies greatly in color, with flowers ranging from cream or pale yellow to reddish lavender or purple and the bracts anywhere from dull blue-green to vivid blue or strong purple. As the plant matures, the bracts change from green to purple to blue. In the garden, the bract color is often on the murky side, depending on the light the plant is viewed in. The variety ‘Purpurascens’ has rich purple-blue flowers held inside sea blue bracts. The flowers are attractive to many types of bees and hummingbirds. Deadhead to encourage continued bloom. If you wish to use honeywort as a cut flower, the ends of the stem need to be either flamed or dipped in hot water.

Flowers eventually produce large rounded black seeds with one flat edge. The seeds on a plant do not ripen all at once, but continue to mature throughout the season as they are produced. They are dispersed a considerable distance from the mother plant by an explosive release mechanism.

Honeywort is attractive to bees.

Honeywort is a great addition to the informal garden. It is a good filler plant, with its blue-green foliage and succulent texture contrasting nicely with other greens in the garden. To bring out the colors in the bracts, interplant honeywort with plants that have purple or bronze leaves, such as Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ or dark-leaved Heucheras (such as ‘Cathedral Windows’ or ‘Obsidian’). Honeywort combines nicely with blue, purple and pink flowers, as well as with other plants with blue or silver foliage, but also provides a striking contrast for bright orange-flowered plants, too. It is nice throughout the border, suitable for middle areas where it will stay upright with the support of adjacent plants, or in the front where its longer stems can trail down.

Honeywort’s blue foliage is a good contrast or echo with other plants, here with little bluestem grass, Schizachryium scoparium ‘The Blues’.

Tall arching grasses are good companions that emphasize its cascading lines. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’) echoes the colors of honeywort, especially in the fall. You could even create a miniature meadow with a mixture of honeywort and various other informal annual flowers from seed, such as dark purple or blue cornflower or Bachelor’s button (Centaurea spp.), annual poppies or California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). C. major also grows well in containers, where the plants will drape gracefully over the sides – but they need lots of water and fertilizer to thrive.

Honeywort is easily grown in most soils in full sun to light shade. Once established it is relatively drought tolerant, but it becomes fuller and blooms more when well watered (but dislikes overly moist soil). In rich soil plants develop lush foliage at the expense of flowers.

Start honeywort from seed indoors 4-6 weeks before the average last frost or outdoors in spring after the danger of frost has passed. If starting indoors, the very large seeds should be planted individually in small pots or plugs.

Seeds of Cerinthe major.

Soaking the seeds overnight before planting will speed germination. Seed can be collected and stored for the following year. Check the ground beneath large plants every few days to collect, gathering the seeds as they fall (if you can see them on the ground). Or harvest whole blooming branches, bringing them inside to dry in a paper or cloth bag (to contain the seeds that otherwise would be shot all over when the pods burst). In mild climates honeywort will reseed readily, but in the Midwest, the seeds tend to sprout in the fall and are killed by the first freeze. Volunteer seedlings can be transplanted, but they will suffer some transplant shock and will require a few weeks to re-establish.

There are few varieties of honeywort available. ‘Purpurascens’ is the most common variety in nurseries and seed catalogs. It has intense purple flowers with the bracts and sepals in varying shades of bluish-violet. ‘Kiwi Blue’ is also offered occasionally; it has bluer bracts and flowers. ‘Purple Belle’ has magenta flowers and grows 2 feet tall.

Other related species that occasionally are available include:

  • C. minor – is smaller, yellow-flowered, and is considered to be a perennial hardy to zone 5.
  • C. retorta – from Greece, has dark purple bracts enclosing pale yellow flowers with blue-purple tips. It is even more striking than C. major, with bold, mottled foliage that has dark spots at the tips and around the edges.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Honeywort, Blue Shrimp Plant, Blue Wax Flower ‘Kiwi Blue’



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun



This plant is resistant to deer

Foliage Color:



18-24 in. (45-60 cm)


9-12 in. (22-30 cm)


Not Applicable

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us


Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:

Bright Yellow


Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Mid Spring

Mid Summer

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Patent Information:

Unknown – Tell us

Propagation Methods:

From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Brea, California

Ferndale, California

Hemet, California

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Carmel, New York

Hendersonville, North Carolina

Cleveland, Ohio

Salem, Oregon

Brookhaven, Pennsylvania

Bellingham, Washington

Orchards, Washington

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Honeywort Seeds – Cerinthe Major Flower Seeds

Flower Specifications

Season: Annual

USDA Zones: 3 – 9

Height: 18 inches

Bloom Season: Summer

Bloom Color: Purple

Environment: Full sun to partial shade

Soil Type: Humus rich, moist but well-drained soil, pH 5.8 – 7.2

Planting Directions

Temperature: 68F

Average Germ Time: 14 – 21 days

Light Required: Yes

Depth: Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep

Sowing Rate: 1 – 2 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 18 inches

Care & Maintenance: Cerinthe Major

Honeywort (Cerinthe Major Purpurascens) – To attract hummingbirds to your garden, start some Honeywort seeds! Cerinthe Major Purpurascens Honeywort is a hummingbird magnet, and it attracts bees and birds yet it is resistant to deer. This Honeywort plant is fast-growing and so rewarding to grow from flower seeds. Cerinthe Major has nodding clusters of rich, purple-blue, tube-like flowers on arching stems. The foliage is unique and just as attractive with mottled bluish mauve leaves that spiral up the many branching stems. Cerinthe Major is excellent in a container where it will drape gracefully over the sides, or it makes a great specimen plant for the flower garden. Honeywort is known to easily self-sow its own flower seeds for next year’s marvelous blue flowers. Cerinthe Honeywort plants are continuous bloomers and can begin in the spring and bloom into the fall. Another common name for Cerinthe Major is Blue Wax Flower.

Cernithe Major Honeywort is native to the Mediterranean region and can be a tender perennial in frost-free climates. Start the Honeywort seeds indoors 6 – 8 weeks before the last expected frost. Sow the flower seeds in pots and cover with 1/8 inch of soil. Keep soil moist but not saturated. Honeywort plants must be in well-draining soil. To use Cerinth Major as a cut flower, the ends of the stem need to be either flamed or dipped in hot water.

What is it? Self-seeding plants really are a gift to your garden, and honeywort (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’) is the gift that keeps on giving. This annual (or occasionally biennial) flower will deposit its odd, square black seeds around the garden and become a feature for years to come.

Plant it with? The nodding, dark purple blooms wreathed in metallic blue bracts above mottled green leaves look stunning combined with grey- or silver-leaved plants such as perovskia, lavender or nepeta, or against the acid green of euphorbias. I like it with lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina), too.

And where? In full sun and a poor, dry soil it will look its best, but it can cope with partial shade.

Any drawbacks? In moist borders the stems (up to 60cm) tend to flop and die back messily. Like all self-seeders, if you don’t “edit out” seedlings that appear in unwanted places, you can end up with a honeywort invasion if this plant likes your garden.

What else does it do? It is much loved by bees, earning an RHS Perfect For Pollinators stamp of approval. Honeywort’s ability to cope with dry conditions also makes it a handy plant for summer container displays.

Buy it Order three 5cm potted plants for £10.99, or six for £14.99 (including free p&p). Call 0330 333 6856, quoting ref GUA653. Or visit our Reader Offers page. Delivery from July.

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How to Grow Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ From Seed.

Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’. Sown 22nd March.

Growing Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ from seed is a walk in the park. Cerinthe has long been a favourite of mine in the flower field…a really reliable and unusual hardy annual. Its leaves are amazing…fleshy…purple/green/blue…ovoid…and often mottled with white specs. The flowers are tubular bells inside ‘felt tip blue’ bracts. There is nothing quite like Cerinthe. Some say it is somewhat unsophisticated and uncouth…I am not one of those people.

If you are trying to encourage bees to your garden then Cerinthe is certainly a plant to have on your list…pollinators go wonky in the conk for it. In fact the olde English name for Cerinthe is ‘Honeywort’ as our ancestors thought it was the plant that bees made most of their honey from. (Bless the old folk and their funny old shoes.)

How To Grow Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ From Seed.

Cerinthe Seedlings

*Find a sunny spot and prepare your soil to a fine tilth. A free draining site is best. Cerinthe will be OK in partial shade…but to my mind she does better when she is drenched in gallons of sunshine.

*Soak your seeds overnight in tepid water, this helps the seedling break out of the tough casing.

*I sow direct into the soil in September and again mid April. I also sow some in pots in the greenhouse….you can sow earlier undercover…mid March.

*Cover the seed with about its own width in soil or compost and water gently.

*I thin mine to about a foot apart, though I know many other gardeners thin to a foot and a half.

Cerinthe flower

*You will find Cerinthe major to be slug resistant…which this year has been a god send in our slug infested country.

*Cerinthe will self seed…so once you have it…it will probably hang around and, indeed, if protected from Jack Frost will survive the winter quite happily….well…down to about minus five.

When using Cerinthe for cutting, try it with hot reds like Tithonia ‘Fiesta Del Sol’…or deep oranges such as Calendula ‘Indian Prince’. Something with a bit of height will spice things up…Dill ‘Mammoth’ is always a good one…or a spire of white Larkspur would be dandy too.

Have a swimmingly good time growing your Cerinthe…you will love it.

Buy Higgledy Garden Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ Seeds. 🙂

Best wishes


PS Here is a link to a brief article from the BBC with regard Cerinthe.

Honeywort (Cerinthe Major Purpurascens) 15 seeds (#1713)

Exotic-looking, but easy to grow from seed.
This attractive Cerinthe is probably quite unlike any other flower you may have in your garden, with its glaucous foliage, deep blue bracts and rich purple-blue flowers, which are high in nectar and therefore very attractive to bees. Very easy to grow from seed and a stunning plant.
Despite its unusual and rather exotic appearance, it is actually easy to grow.
Cerinthe is a hardy annual, which flowers the same year as sowing. It is undemanding and will thrive in most soils in full sun.
The name Cerinthe is from the Greek keros (wax) and anthos (flower), as bees were thought to extract wax from the flowers.
Genus – Cerinthe
Species – Major
Variety – Purpurascens
Common name – Honeywort
Pre-Treatment – Not-required
Hardiness zones – 4 – 9
Height – 0,60 m
Spread – 0,30 m
Plant type – Annual flower
Exposure – Full Sun, Partial Sun
Growth rate – Fast
Soil PH – Acid, neutral, alkaline
Soil type – Light, well drained
Water requirements – Average
Landscape uses – City gardens, informal gardens, borders, beds, patio containers
Bloom season – June – October
Leaf / Flower color – Blue-green / Purple blue
Sow indoors from February to April.
A warm kitchen windowsill is all you need for starting these seeds.
Sow individually, in 5 mm deep, in pots of compost. Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of +15-+20C is ideal. Keep moist.
Seedlings usually appear in 14-28 days.
Grow on in cooler, but not cold conditions. Gradually accustom young plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out in May, 30 cm apart, into well-drained soil, when frosts are over.

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