Echium plantagineum Echium plantagineum Echium plantagineum

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Viper's Bugloss

Echium vulgare

  • Name also: Blueweed, Blue Devil, Viper’s-bugloss, Vipers Bugloss
  • Family: Borage Family – Boraginaceae
  • Growing form: Biennial herb. Taproot reddish brown–purple, staining.
  • Height: 30–90 cm (12–35 in.). Stem unbranched–branched at base, rough hairs descending oblique, base purple.
  • Flower: Quite clearly irregular (zygomorphic), 10–18 mm (0.4–0.72 in.) wide. Corolla initially pink, finally blue, sometimes purple (occasionally white), fused, funnel-shaped, slightly arching, shallowly 5-lobed, outer surface hairy. Calyx fused, 5-lobed almost till base, lobes needle-like, densely bristle-haired. Stamens 4–5, different lengths, longer than corolla, filaments red. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Inflorescence a long and quite lax, axillary partly one-sided scorpioid cyme.
  • Leaves: Rosette and basal leaves stalked, stalk flat. Upper stem leaves alternate, stalkless. Blade linear–narrowly lanceolate, with entire margin, 1-veined, hairy.
  • Fruit: 4-parted schizocarp. Carpels roundish, wrinkled.
  • Habitat: Roadsides, village meadows, river banks, loading areas. Also an ornamental.
  • Flowering time: Juny–August.

Viper’s bugloss is native to southern Europe. Most of the genus’s species grow in south-west Asia, the Mediterranean countries and Macaronesia. In Finland, viper’s bugloss has arrived with people and thrives best in warm, sun-baked places with calciferous soil and good drainage. It is usually found in railway yards, around harbours, by roadsides and in sandy fields.

Viper’s bugloss grows casually as far north as Oulu, but its sparse, established stands are in southern Finland. It is usually solitary in the wild, but then the plants are more impressive. It was probably grown in olden times as an ornamental, and it can still hold its head up high among contemporary garden flowers: its inflorescence is impressive and lasts a long time. Additionally, it attracts many kinds of insects – bees, white butterflies (Pieridae) and hawk moths are all especially interested in its flowers.

Viper’s bugloss flowers, with their protruding pistil and stigmas (and some would say also seeds), are slightly reminiscent of a snake’s head, for which reason it has sometimes been used to treat snake bites. A legacy of this survives in its scientific name, which comes from the Ancient Greek word echis, meaning “viper”.

Purple Viper’s Bugloss

Echium plantagineum

Viper’s bugloss’s close relative purple viper’s bugloss can sometimes be found in the wild as an escape from gardens. It can usually be clearly identified by its clear lateral veins, inflorescence and larger corolla. And one clearly different detail is the size of stamens: with viper’s bugloss all stamens are to be seen outside corolla, with purple viper’s bugloss only two stamens can be seen outside.

Other species from the same family

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