Showy annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials, many with tall colourful flower spikes. Good for pollinating insects. Dwarf forms are particularly useful for the border. The species E. pininana is an impressive giant, reaching 12ft or more.
Family: Boraginaceae (borage family)
Botanical Name: Echium
Common Names: Viper's bugloss, tower of jewels, annual borage.
Foliage: Rosettes of bristly, mid-green or silver-green, long leaves.
Flowers: Tubular flowers borne in dense clusters. Either on low growing bushy plants or dramatic tall flower spikes (depending on variety). Usually purple in bud, opening to violet-blue or pink.
Flowering Period: Early to late summer.
Soil: Well-drained, fertile soil (chalk, sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.
Conditions: Best in full sun. Plant in a west or south facing aspect, in a sheltered position.
Habit: Upright or low bushy.
Type: Annual or biennial.
Origin: North Africa, Europe and Central Asia.
Hardiness: Hardy only in mild or coastal regions of the UK.
Toxicity: Can cause stomach upset if ingested. Contact can irritate skin. Wear gloves and wash hands after handling.
Easy to grow from seed. Grow in an open sunny bed or border, in any well-drained, moderately fertile, garden soil. Tolerates poor, dry conditions. Tolerant of drought once established.
Loved by bees and other benificial insects. Suitable for open borders or wildlife friendly gardens.
Tender varieties can be over-wintered in a sheltered spot, in south or south-west regions.
Stake tall forms in exposed situations.
Remove dead flower spikes or leave them over the winter for architectural interest.
Young growth is susceptible to attack by slugs and snails. Generally disease free.
Seeds of hardy annuals can be sown where they are to flower in March.
Sow biennials in September and protect with cloches overwinter. Gradually thin to required spacing in April.
Tender varieties can be sown in individual pots under glass in April. Pot-on and plant out in summer.
Most forms are biennials but they will often flower in their first year and usually self-seed well.
Echium candicans (pride of Madeira) is a tender semi-evergreen perennial, bearing densely packed spikes of small purple flowers, which rise above rosettes of lance-shaped, hairy, grey-green leaves. For sale at You Garden.
Echium lycopsis is a bushy erect annual with 10in (25cm) long flower spikes, closely packed with purple or blue tubular blooms.
Echium pininana (tree echium) produces a tall showy flower-spike with masses of blue, funnel-shaped flowers in summer. Foliage is rough, hairy and silvery green, forming an elongated rosette. A monocarpic species, which takes two or three years to flower and dies once flowering has finished. Height up to 12ft (3.5m), spread 3ft (1m). For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
Echium plantagineum (hardy biennial or annual) is a bushy plant with hairy, mid-green leaves. Violet-blue flowers on 12in branching spikes. Height to 3ft (90cm), spread 18in (45cm). Varieties include: 'Dwarf Hybrids' a compact strain with blue, rose, purple and white flowers, and 'Blue Bedder' with bright blue flowers. Height 12in (30cm). For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
Echium vulgare (common form) a biennial usually grown as an annual. Excellent for planting in large open drifts. Height to 2ft (60cm). For sale at Crocus.