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Alkanet

Anchusa officinalis

  • Name also: Common Bugloss
  • Family: Borage Family – Boraginaceae
  • Growing form: Biennial or perennial herb. Main root strong.
  • Height: 30–80 cm (12–32 in.). Stem roughly haired.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic) (wheel-shaped–bell-shaped), 8–12 mm (0.3–0.45 in.) wide, initially red, later dark purple, fused, 5-lobed. Corolla tube longer than calyx, straight, mouth with large white protuberances. Calyx fused, bell-shaped, from midway almost to the base 5-lobed, densely hairy. Calyx lobes narrowly triangular, sharp-pointed. Stamens 5. Gynoecium fused, single-styled. Inflorescence a scorpioid cyme. All flowers with supporting leaves.
  • Leaves: Alternate. Basal leaves stalked, stalks winged. Stem leaves stalkless with broad attachment. Blade elliptic, hairy, entire–wavye-edged.
  • Fruit: 4-parted schizocarp. Mericarps elliptic, oblique, brown, granular surface, approx. 4 mm (0.15 in.) long.
  • Habitat: Loading places, yards, wasteland, roadsides, beside fields. Also ornamental and escape.
  • Flowering time: June–August.
  • Endangerment: Near threatened.

Alkanet (common bugloss) comes from the steppes of South-eastern Europe. Its seeds have originally adapted to be spread by ants, but in Finland, for example, the species has arrived with human help. It established itself mainly in South-western Finland, in village roadsides, yards and ruins, when it was long ago cultivated for its medicinal properties. Alkanet was used as a sedative and analgesic, and in larger doses as a laxative, and young leaves can also be chopped into salads or prepared like spinach. Nowadays the species is sometimes grown as an ornamental plant due to its beautiful flowers. The corolla mouth of many borage family plants is almost closed by protuberances, scales or hairs, which manifest as a clear difference in colour in alkanet flowers. The point of this construction is to guide the proboscis of pollinating insects into the nectar in such a way that it unavoidably touches both the stigma and the stamen. Their unusual pale colour also means that they are clearly efficient signs for nectar. The funnel on bugloss corollas is longer than e.g. that of its forget-me-not or hound’s tongue relations, so the flower’s stores of nectar are only available to long-tongued insects.

The scientific name for the bugloss genus has a long history. In ancient Greece the name Anchusa was used for many borage family plants – although not for buglosses whose name is derived from the Greek for ox’s tongue, Buglosson. Linné, who gave the plant its modern scientific name, intentionally deviated from the former understanding. The other bugloss species that grows in Finland is small bugloss (A. arvensis), which has small, whitish blue corollas with horn-shaped tubes.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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