Echium vulgare

Common Name: viper's bugloss 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Boraginaceae
Native Range: Europe, western and central Asia
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 1.00 to 2.50 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: May to September
Bloom Description: Blue with red stamens
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Drought, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil

Culture

Biennial or cool weather annual. As a biennial, this plant will produce a basal clump of foliage the first year from which rise flowering spikes the second year. As an annual, plants can flower and seed in the first year if started early. It is easily grown in average, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates poor soils. Rich fertile soils produce excess foliage with fewer flowers. Plants will freely self-seed in the landscape, sometimes aggressively. Remove flowering spikes before nutlets mature to limit unwanted self-seeding.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Echium vulgare, know as viper’s bugloss, blue devil, blue thistle and blueweed, is native to southern Europe, but has naturalized over much of North America (except the far southeast and southwest) where it is most commonly found in pastures, fields, disturbed sites, waste places and roadsides. Its reputation among gardeners runs the gamut from an aggressive weed to attractive wildflower. It is a taprooted plant that grows 1-2.5’ tall with bristly hairs on the leaves and stems. As a biennial, it produces a basal clump of lance-shaped leaves (to 6” long and 1.5” wide) in the first year. Leaves are speckled with white. In the second year, an erect flowering stalk (green spotted with purple) rises from the basal clump to 2.5’ tall. Funnel-shaped blue flowers (to 3/4” long) with protruding red stamens bloom from late May to September along the upper parts of the flowering stalk. Flowers give way to rough nutlets and the plant then dies. Bugloss comes from Greek and means ox tongue in reference to the shape and rough texture of the leaves. Plants were once used as a treatment for snake/viper bites. Plant nutlets are reported to resemble snake/viper heads.

Echium is the Greek name for this plant. It is derived from echis which means viper in reference to (a) the nutlet shape which resembles the head of a viper and (b) the ancient medicinal use of the plant root as a treatment for snakebite.

Specific epithet means common.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. For some individuals, contact of bare skin with bristly plant hairs can cause dermatitis.

Garden Uses

Sunny borders, cottage gardens, wild gardens and naturalized areas.