Throughout much of North America, brown fields, roadsides, and other waste places occasionally take on a wonderful blue hue. Often time the cause of this colorful display is none other than Echium vulgare, or as its commonly referred to, viper’s bugloss. Viper’s bugloss is a member of the borage family and was originally native to most of Europe and Asia. However, humans introduced it to North America some time ago. It has since naturalized quite well and is even considered invasive in parts of Washington. No matter your views on this plant, the reproductive ecology of this species is quite interesting.
Viper’s bugloss produces its flowers on spikes. Starting off pink and gradually changing to blue as they mature, the flowers ripen their male portions on their first day and ripen their female portions on the second day. This is known as “protandry.” Plants that exhibit this lifestyle offer researchers a window into the advantages and disadvantages with regards to the fitness investment of each sex. What they have found in viper’s bugloss is that there are clearly distinct strategies for each type of flower.
Male flowers are pollinator limited. They must hedge their bets towards increasing the number of visitors. Bees are the main pollinators of this species and the more bees that visit, the more pollen can be disseminated. Unlike female flowers, which are resource limited, male flowers can produce pollen and nectar quite cheaply. Because of this, male flowers produce significantly more nectar than female flowers to bring in more bees. As the anthers senesce and give way to receptive styles, things begin to change. The plant now has to redirect resources into producing seed. At this point, resources are everything. The plant produces considerably less nectar resources than pollen but the bees can’t know that without visiting.
Echium vulgare is a rather exotic native plant which makes a rosette of oblong hairy leaves from which arises a stout flowering spike with blue conical flowers up its length. Each flower has protruding red stamens.
Used in the border or as part of wildlife friendly planting schemes, the buds of start off pink at first, the flowers turn the most exquisite shades of intense blue and as the flowers fade they become tinged with crimson.
Echium vulgare is a valuable plant and is exotic enough to earn a place in a flower border or used it as near to your allotment to ensure pollination. If you don’t want plants that honeybees simply visit, but want to select plants that honeybees clearly love, choose Echium for your garden.
Viper’s bugloss is one of, if not THE very best plant to attract bees to your garden. Along with Borage and Phacelia, the plant is much loved by almost all bee species, especially bumblebees.
For months this plant is a stable source of nectar:
- The plant repeat blooms throughout the summer into autumn, providing nectar for bees for overwintering.
- Unlike many flowers. Echium has a most unusual feature. The nectar inside the flower is protected inside the flower, from vaporization (when it’s hot) or being flushing away (when it rains).
- This plant produces nectar throughout the day unlike most plants which produce nectar for a short period of time. If the bees have a good access to Echium they can collect between 12-20 lbs of nectar a day.
- The plant continues to bloom throughout drought periods. The concentration of sugars in the nectar varies, from 22.6 to 48.3% depending on the quality of the soil, and not on the amount of rain.
Sowing: Sow in March to May or in August to September
Sow March-May for flowers June-September, or sow August-September to flower May-July the following year. The seed should be sown directly outdoors where it is to flower in spring or autumn. They prefer well drained soil in full sun or part shade. The seed can also be sown indoors, but direct sowing is preferable, as they have a long taproot which can be damaged when transplanting. Make two or three successive sowings for continuous flowers.
Prepare the area where they are to grow. Removing any weeds or stones and rake to a fine tilth. Sow thinly, 6mm (¼in) deep in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Sow the seed sparingly or they will choke out other seedlings. Water ground regularly until the seedlings are established, especially in dry periods. Optimum germination temperature: 60 to 65°F (15 to 18°C).
If sowing more than one annual in the same bed, consider marking the sowing areas with a ring of sand and a label. The seedlings will appear in rows approx 6 to 8 weeks after planting and can be easily told from nearby weed seedlings.
Prick out superfluous seedlings rigorously, so that the plants are at least 38cm (18in) apart. They will then have enough space to spread satisfactorily.
Plant in a dry, sunny position in well-drained or sandy soil. Deadhead to prolong flowering and encourage new flower buds. Plants will reseed themselves if a few heads are left in the garden to mature. Leave a few plants to die down to self seed or collect seed for next year, others can be pulled up and composted
This striking species is best viewed and not touched. The sharp spines, which cover the plant, are a powerful deterrent and can be a skin irritant; becoming lodged in the skin much like those of a cactus. If you are tempted by the Viper, please use gloves when handling the plant!
Flowers Borders and Beds, Patio/Container Plants, Cut Flower, Wildlife and wildflower meadows. Bees and Honey making. Butterfly gardens, Drought Tolerant.
Echium vulgare is a very attractive European native, often found on grassy and undisturbed situations. It prefers a well-drained chalky soil and is often seen on chalk and limestone downs, by the coast on cliffs, sand dunes and shingle.
Vipers Bugloss has sadly declined somewhat in frequency, due to agricultural intensification, reclamation and the development of neglected ground.
The popular name records its historic use as a cure for snake bites.
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (circa 17th century) describes Viper’s as follows: “It is a most gallant herb of the Sun; it is a pity it is no more in use than it is. It is an especial remedy against the biting of the Viper, and all other venomous beasts, or serpents; as also against poison, or poisonous herbs.
Discorides and others say, That whosoever shall take of the herb or root before they be bitten, they shall not be hurt by the poison of any serpent.”
Echium vulgare belongs to the Boraginacea family. It is known as Viper’s Bugloss.
The genus Echium is named from the Greek echis meaning “a viper,” the flowers apparently appearing to represent a viper’s head.
The species name vulgare means ‘common’, a common wildflower,
The name bugloss is of Greek origin, from a word signifying an ox’s tongue, and alluding to the roughness and shape of the plant’s leaves. The viper part of the name may derive from the spotted stem, said to recall marks on a snake, or an imagined resemblance between the dead flower-head and the head of a snake.
- Vipers Bugloss
- Texas Invasive Species Institute
- Ecological Threat
- Echium vulgare
- Echium vulgare – Viper’s Bugloss
- Species currently unavailable or of restricted availability
- Echium Seed – Viper’s Bugloss Flower Seeds
Just in case anyone is growing this from seed as I am this year, be aware that they don’t take kindly at all to ‘pricking out’ as I’ve found to my cost. Out of roughly 60 seeds sown into a small propagator and kept warm for about two months, I started moving my strongest plants (these, Hollyhock, giant sunflowers, Globe Thistle and Teasel so far) into 49 cell windowsill ones, there were 12 Viper’s Bugloss that germinated (out of the ~60) and only two of these 12 have survived!
So if you do try, don’t use my technique of gently lifting the plant out holding a leaf and teasing the soil away from the roots (worked OK for the vast majority of the other plants I transplanted..) rather try and grab the roots and soil whole and move it that way.
I’ve planted another ’emergency’ batch so hopefully there’ll be enough time for these to come through. You live an learn I guess.
Anyone had any luck with this variety? They’re supposed to be brilliant for insects but finding them quite tricky, despite the fact they grow in poor conditions out in the wild.
From a gardener’s perspective, flowering plants that attract bees, butterflies, and birds while deterring deer from a daily nibble are a welcome addition to the yard. One such plant, blueweed (Echium vulgare), has pretty blue blossoms and makes for an attractive centerpiece in any garden bed, but comes with a surprising price tag to our ecosystems and economy as a highly invasive plant.
Invasive plants grow rapidly and spread quickly, causing damage to the environment, economy and our health. They are also the second greatest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Introduced from Europe, blueweed is a biennial to short-lived perennial, and considered regionally noxious under the BC Weed Control Act. Blueweed is commonly found on roadsides, drainage ditches, rights-of-way, fence lines, pastures, rangeland, and other disturbed areas. It is a concern in the Cariboo, Central Kootenay, Columbia-Shuswap, East Kootenay, Okanagan-Silmilkameen, and Thompson-Nicola Regional Districts.
Commonly called “viper’s bugloss” because of its resemblance to a viper’s head, blueweed has bright blue blossoms found on the upper side of short, rough stems, and grows 30-80 centimetres in height. Hairy stems are painful to the touch, and hairs often have swollen dark bases that form noticeable flecks. Leaves become progressively smaller as they approach the top of the plant.
Although large infestations make a pretty photograph, this plant can spread quickly by producing healthy seeds that are easily distributed. A single plant can produce up to 2800 seeds that generally drop in the immediate vicinity of the parent plant, but can be distributed further by people and animals as the rough seeds stick to clothing, hair and feathers. Blueweed is occasionally found in nurseries as a gardening plant since it attracts butterflies and not deer or rabbits. Deer, as well as most grazing animals on pastures and rangelands, will avoid blueweed since it is unpalatable; therefore, a small infestation will spread quickly, reducing the area available for food and forage crops and increasing overgrazing on pastures. As a result, infestations are associated with economic losses and rising management costs on agricultural lands.
Help your community protect local resources by preventing and managing invasive plants. There are hundreds of beautiful native plants and non-invasive exotic alternatives available to replace this invasive in your backyard.
Texas Invasive Species Institute
Blueweed (Echium vulgare) is a large plant capable of growing up to 3 feet tall with tap roots that extend 12 to 32 inches below the soil. Bluweed flowers from May to September with conical, dark blue flowers, that are 1.5 cm long. The leaves are green, long, thin, have a single mid-vein, and spines along the ventral side of the vein. Stems of blueweed are covered with clear spines from pubescence. It is possible for the stems to have purple spots at the base of the spines.
Blueweed is an aggressive plant that is capable of spreading through an entire pasture within a year. The presence of small thorns covering the plant are harmful to livestock leading to liver damage when ingested, and can cause dermatitis in people. It is recommended to avoid touching blueweed because of the painful thorns similar to a cactus. Blueweed is also a known host of crop-damaging pathogens. Growth and sale of blueweed is prohibited in Washington, Montana, and Wyoming because it has been declared a noxious weed.
Blueweed produces 500 to 2,000 seeds per plant facilitating rapid spread through pastures and rangelands. Seeds are released from the plant and fall to the ground near the parent. Spreading is facilitated by attaching to fur, feathers, or clothing. Seeds are capable of remaining viable in the ground for several years.
Traditionally, the leaves of blueweed were boiled into tea and used as a headache remedy due to the alkaloid content. Blueweed was also introduced as an oil seed crop because of the gamma linoleic acid content of the plant.
Elongating clusters at the tip of the stem and arising from leaf axils on the upper 1/3 or more of the stem. The clusters are initially compact and more or less triangular in shape, becoming arching as they stretch out, the stalkless flowers all crowded on the upper side of the cluster and blooming from the bottom up, with only 1 to a few flowers open on the cluster at a time. Flowers are ½ to ¾ inch long, blue to violet, sometimes pink or white, bell or funnel-shaped with 5 rounded lobes, the upper 2 extending farther than the lower 3. Outer surfaces are hairy, inner surfaces hairless. In the center are 5 long, curved, red to purple stamens with yellow tips and a red to purple style that’s hairy on the lower half. The calyx has 5 lance-linear lobes that are shorter than the floral tube and covered in long, spreading hairs. At the base of each flower is a small, hairy, leaf-like bract about as long as the calyx.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are basal and alternate, generally lance-linear, the lower to 6+ inches long, up to 1 inch wide and stalked, becoming smaller and stalkless as they ascend the stem. Edges are toothless, surfaces are covered in spreading, bristly hairs with sharp spines along the midrib on the underside. Leaves often become a bit wavy or twisted. Stems are single or multiple from the base, erect or the lateral stems ascending, green, covered in short, appressed hairs as well as long, spreading spines with purple, swollen bases that give a polka-dotted appearance.
Fruit is a cluster of 4 nutlets, though often only 1 or 2 reach maturity. Nutlets are about 2.5mm long, angular, gray-brown to blackish and covered in minute bumps.
While Viper’s Bugloss is quite striking, it might better be considered an “up and coming” weed in Minnesota. First collected in Grand Marais in 1892, it was rarely recorded until the early 2000s, when it started getting more notice along roadsides mostly near the north shore of Lake Superior. We first spotted it in 2013 along Highway 61 near Grand Marais among the Oxeye Daisies, Birds-foot Trefoil, Orange and Yellow Hawkweeds (aren’t the wildflowers on the north shore pretty?), and Reed Canary-grass, and have watched its progression in the years since. While it is not yet widespread, it seems to be expanding its territory more rapidly now and is potentially invasive, currently listed as a noxious weed in the northwest US. Regardless of that status, it is a pest in any case due to the sharp spines on leaves and stems, which can embed themselves in skin much like a cactus. Plants also contains alkaloids that are toxic to horses, and while considered by some to be good for pollinators, honeybees that feed on it may produce honey that is mildly toxic. Viper’s Bugloss is not likely to be confused with any other species; the flowers and their arrangement along with the spiny stems and leaves are pretty unique.
A bright and bold biennial, this relative of borage relishes full sun and can give a spectacular display right through the summer.
This really is a plant that conjures-up the idea of viper. It grows easily from seed and in the first year produces a flat rosette of long, wavy-edged leaves that are covered in soft prickles. The following year, these rosettes elongate into one or more stout, upright stems, clothed for most of their length with blue flowers. These emerge on little side branches, coiled like cobras at first, that slowly unfurl and produce flowers in succession for weeks on end. The large blue-purple flowers flare widely at their mouths, and a tuft of stamens and stigmas protrude from each, giving the impression of a snake about to strike. Once flowering is over and seed has been set, each plant dies.
This species is denizen of dry, grassy and disturbed places where there is plenty of lime in the soil. It often pops up on bare patches of soil on chalk downland and limestone grassland where rabbits and badgers have been burrowing. Around the coast, it grows on cliffs and shingle, and can occur in spectacular abundance on sand dunes; one area of dunes in Yorkshire is known as the ‘blue mountain’ because of it. It also grows in quarries, on cultivated and waste land, and along railways and disturbed roadside verges.
Viper’s-bugloss is easily grown in a sunny spot on well-drained soil, preferably with a bit of lime in it. Seeds are best sown in autumn, either directly where you want them to flower or in pots for planting out the following spring. Make sure you sow a few seeds every year to ensure a continual display. If it likes your garden, you might find that it seeds itself gently around.
Viper’s-bugloss on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. Photo © Trevor Dines / Plantlife
Echium vulgareBiennialBlueSunHeight : 30 – 80cmFlowering period : June – SeptemberThis is a good source of nectar :Price for : 9cm pot = £2.95 : BUYPrice for : 5 plug plants = £4.95 : BUY
Vipers bugloss is a biennial and can grow in a very poor dry soil, where it will be only 30cm tall. In good garden soil it can grow much larger. It has a long flowering period, though it can get rather straggly at the end of the summer. Being biennial our plants and plug plants in 2019 are likely to flower the following year in 2020.
Self seeds but save some seed to sow the following year.
Bees are especially attracted to Vipers bugloss- a great plant for pollinators!
We endeavour to deliver your order to you within 7-10 working days of your order being placed; if there is a delay we will let you know.
Once shipped you will usually receive your order within 24-48 hours.
For further information on delivery please check out our delivery details here and terms.
Some plants are only available at certain times of year. For any queries regarding stock availability please do contact us and we will be happy to advise.
- Position: full sun
- Soil: moderately fertile, well-drained soil
- Rate of growth: average
- Flowering period: June to August
- Hardiness: fully hardy (biennial)
From amongst the rosettes of slender, bristly foliage, upright leafy stems emerge in early summer bearing spikes of violet blue or purple, bell-shaped flowers. When in full bloom, these not only look impressive, but they will also act as a magnet to many pollinating insects. This makes them ideal candidates for a wildlife-friendly garden, but they also make fine additions to the mixed border.
- Garden care: Early spring sowings may flower later in their first year. For early summer colour they should be sown in late summer or autumn the previous year. Scatter the seed thinly into a sunny, well-prepared seedbed and cover lightly. Water regularly until they are established, thinning them out to 35cm as they grow on. Take care not to damage the long-tap root if they have to be moved. Dead-heading regularly will help encourage more flowers to form.
- Sow: March – May or August – September
- Flowering: June-August
- Approximate quantity: 35 seeds
- Harmful if eaten/skin irritant
Echium vulgare – Viper’s Bugloss
Viper’s bugloss is a very distinctive, roughly hairy, medium to tall grassland biennial. It has a tall unbranched spike covered with many curved sprays of flowers which start as pink buds and open out into brilliant blue trumpet shaped flowers. Flowering occurs from June to September.
|Type||Seeds per gram||Origin||Ordering|
|Grassland Perennial||250||Hertfordshire||Currently unavailable|
Viper’s bugloss is a biennial which requires free draining reasonably open grassland or disturbed soil in which its seed can germinate. It is found in bare places on down land, in heaths and on more disturbed habitats such as cultivated land, railways and roadsides, cliffs, sand dunes and shingle. Viper’s bugloss has a deep and persistent root which allows it to exploit free draining, drought prone land. Viper’s bugloss is pollinated by a range of ‘long tongued’ insects including bees, butterflies and moths.
Can be sown at any time of the year.
Sorry, this species is currently unavailable to order as a single item as we have no stock. For more information please see availability note above.
Echium Seed – Viper’s Bugloss Flower Seeds
USDA Zones: 3 – 8
Height: 16 inches
Bloom Season: Late spring to late summer
Bloom Color: Rose
Environment: Full sun
Soil Type: Well drained sandy loam
Temperature: 60 – 70F
Average Germ Time: 14 – 21 days
Light Required: No
Depth: 1/4 inch
Sowing Rate: 2 – 3 seeds per plant
Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination
Plant Spacing: 12 inches
Care & Maintenance: Echium
Viper’s Bugloss (Echium Plantagineum Rose Bedder) – If you have a wildlife garden and want to attract beneficial insects, start Echium seeds and grow these lovely, nectar-rich flowers. Often referred to as Viper’s Bugloss, these flowering plants grown from flower seeds have masses of bright rose, upturned bell-like flowers that grow in clusters along branching stems covered with bristly grey hairs. Echium Rose Bedder plants are not picky about soil, and they are lovely in flower beds, borders or containers.
It is recommended to sow Echium seeds directly outdoors once frost danger has passed. In a prepared seedbed with loosened soil that is free of weeds, so the flower seed and cover with soil. Keep the Viper’s Bugloss seeds moist until germination occurs. Echium Rose Bedder seeds can be sown successively for continual blooms. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage continued blooming. If a few flowers are allowed to go to seed, Viper’s Bugloss will re-seed itself for next year. It is recommended to wear gloves when handling Echium plants as it can be a skin irritant.