Viper’s Bugloss Cultivation: Tips On Growing Viper’s Bugloss In Gardens
Viper’s bugloss plant (Echium vulgare) is a nectar-rich wildflower with clusters of cheery, bright blue to rose-colored blooms that will attract hordes of happy honeybees to your garden. Viper’s bugloss flowers are suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. Want to learn more about how to grow viper’s bugloss? Keep reading for tips on growing this low-maintenance plant!
Viper’s Bugloss Cultivation
Growing viper’s bugloss is easy. Just plant the seeds directly in the garden after all frost danger has passed in spring and you’ll have blooms in a few short months. Plant a few seeds every couple of weeks if you want blooms all summer long. You can also plant seeds in autumn for spring blooms.
Viper’s bugloss thrives in full sun and nearly any dry, well-drained soil. Plant the seeds in a permanent location because viper’s bugloss has a long taproot that makes it extremely uncooperative when it comes to transplanting.
To plant viper’s bugloss, sprinkle the seeds lightly on the soil, and then cover them with a very thin layer of fine soil or sand. Water lightly and keep the soil slightly moist until the seeds germinate, which usually takes two to three weeks. Thin the seedlings to allow about 18 inches between each plant.
Caring for Your Growing Viper’s Bugloss
Viper’s bugloss requires very little care, and once established, the plants need virtually no irrigation and no fertilizer. Deadhead wilted blooms regularly to encourage continued blooming. Be vigilant about removing blooms if you want to limit rampant self-seeding in your garden.
Is Viper’s Bugloss Invasive?
Yes! Viper’s bugloss is a non-native plant that originated in Europe. Before you plant viper’s bugloss flowers in your garden, it’s important to note that the viper’s bugloss plant can be invasive in certain areas and is considered a noxious weed in Washington and several other western states. Check with your local extension office to see if it’s okay to grow this plant in your location.
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.
Irish Wildflowers Irish Wild Plants Irish Wild Flora Wildflowers of Ireland
Not very commonly seen in Ireland but unmistakeable when found, Viper’s-bugloss is a strikingly handsome plant which reaches a height of up to 80cm. Usually a biennial, in its first year it produces a basal rosette of large, strap-shaped stalked leaves. The following year its beautiful flowers are borne on solitary stems which are covered in reddish bristles. The funnel-shaped flowers (15-20mm long) are deep blue with protruding violet-coloured stamens and grow in coiled cymes from leaf axils, blooming from May to September. As they uncurl, they are populated by numerous nectar-seeking insects including the Painted Lady butterfly. The upper unstalked leaves are narrow and pointed. This is a native plant which belongs to the family Boraginaceae.
I only saw this wildflower once in Ireland when I found it growing near Broad Lough, Co Wicklow in 1980. In 2010, I was lucky enough to be given a small seedling by a friend living not far from that area. It flowered in my own piece of garden in 2011.
If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre