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Lindsay's Flora Blog - 28th My

Posted: Thursday 28th May 2020 by trustadmin

Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

This roughly hairy biennial is just coming into flower. Pinkish in bud, the flower stem develops in a coiled form before producing spikes of brilliant blue trumpet-shaped flowers with pinkish-purple protruding stamens. It is native to most of Europe, preferring dry, bare or sparsely grassy places; soon you will see it in blue swathes, one of the best places being around Fort Albert.

Apparently in the past it was used as a cure for snake-bite and its common name may have come from this. Other suggestions are that the stamens of the flowers stick out like a snake's tongue and the spotted stem is said to resemble a snake’s markings. 'Bugloss' comes from the Greek meaning 'ox's tongue' and refers to the rough, tongue-shaped leaves.

Viper’s Bugloss is loved by insects of all kinds, especially bees, hoverflies and butterflies, and the Painted Lady butterfly is particularly fond of it.

Tree Echium or Giant Viper’s Bugloss (Echium pininana)

This echium (see main image) is native to the Canary Islands and like Viper’s Bugloss is in the Borage family. Originally a garden plant it self-seeds prolifically and can grow to 4 metres high. It is biennial, with only the leaves appearing in the first year, but in the second year a splendid and immensely tall leafy spike develops. Each spike is loaded with masses of small blue flowers with pinkish-purple stamens (very similar to those of Viper’s Bugloss) which attract lots of pollinators, particularly bees.

After flowering the plants die and scatter their seed, creating impressive clusters of plants in the years that follow. You will see spectacular displays in the wild all around the island, and also find it in many gardens (including my own).

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