Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Echium vulgare - Viper's bugloss

Family: Boraginaceae (Borage family) [E-flora]

"Additional Notes Blueweed is a species of disturbed sites and roadsides. It is listed by the Invasive Plant Council of British Columbia as one of BC's most unwanted species." [E-flora]

"Echium vulgare is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 0.9 m (3ft) by 0.6 m (2ft in).
It is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to October, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, lepidoptera. The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure." [PFAF]

"General: Biennial herb from a taproot, roughly long- or short-hairy and spreading-bristly, the bristles often bulbous-based; stems single, 30-80 cm tall." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Leaves: Basal leaves oblanceolate, narrowed to stalk, 6-25 cm long (stalk included), 0.5-3 cm wide; stem leaves becoming smaller and unstalked upward, alternate, entire." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Flowers: Inflorescence of numerous short, coiled clusters in a long, narrow (often wandlike) cluster; corollas funnel-shaped, asymmetric (upper part longer); petals blue (sometimes pink or white), fused at base into a short tube that flares at top into 5 unequal lobes, the throat open without bulges; 4 of 5 stamens exserted from the corolla." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Fruits: Nutlets 4, clustered together, angular, roughened and wrinkled." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Habitat / Range Dry roadsides and waste places in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; frequent in C and S BC east of the Coast-Cascade Mountains, infrequent on the coast; introduced from Europe." [IFBC-E-flora]

Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]

"The leaves are poisonous[20]. No cases of poisoning have ever been recorded for this plant[76]. The bristly hairs on the leaves and stems can cause severe dermatitis[207]. The whole plant is poisonous." [PFAF]

Toxin: "Pyrrolizidine alkaloids. There are no adequately documented human poisonings, and clinical descriptions are based on the nature of the toxin. Substantial short-term exposure may cause acute hepatitis, and chronic exposure to lower levels may cause hepatic veno-occlusive disease (Budd–Chiari syndrome) and in some cases pulmonary hypertension." [HPIP Shih]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

Viper's bugloss was once considered to be a preventative and remedy for viper bites[254]. It is related to borage, Borago officinalis, and has many similar actions, especially in its sweat-inducing and diuretic effects[254]. In recent times, however, it has fallen out of use, partly due to lack of interest in its medicinal potential and partly to its content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are toxic in isolation[254]." [PFAF]
Part used : Herb.
Action : Demulcent, expectorant, diaphoretic.
Two to four tablespoonful doses of the 1 ounce to 1 pint infusion are given for the reduction of feverish colds and in inflammatory conditions of the respiratory tract.[HerbalManual Ward]

Flowering Heads

"When chopped up finely, the fresh flowering heads can be made into a poultice for treating whitlows and boils[7]." [PFAF]

"Both Echium plantagineum and E. vulgare are of European origin but have become opportunistic weeds in other parts of the world. In particular, E. plantagineum is a major agricultural toxic weed in Australia whilst E. vulgare has infested large parts of New Zealand. Both have implications for livestock health, welfare, and productivity as well as human health implications via the presence of their alkaloids in honey and other food products [26–28]." [Wiley MAlk]
"The... extracts of E. plantagineum and E. vulgare are shown.... The profiles for both plants are very similar but with some obvious additional peaks in the chromatogram of the E. vulgare extract. Some of the peaks were identified as being the N-oxides of pyrrolizidine alkaloids previously isolated from these plants but a number of peaks were apparently undescribed alkaloids. Careful examination of the mass spectral data provided confident but tentative structural identifications [33,35]. Thus, a suite of new alkaloids was tentatively identified in E. vulgare in which the major E. plantagineum alkaloids were further esterified with angelic acid (or one of its configurational isomers) on the C-9 esterifying acid (Figure 13.12). These alkaloids were also identified in samples of honey produced from E. plantagineum and E. vulgare." [Wiley MAlk]

"Seed - sow February-May or August-November in situ. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 3 weeks at 15oc. If the seed is in short supply then it can be sown in pots in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer." [PFAF]

"Succeeds in any good garden soil but flowers best when the soil is not too rich[1]. Requires a sunny position[200]. The plant is very deep rooted[4]. A good bee plant[4]." [PFAF]


  1. [E-flora], Accessed Jan 29, 2015
  2. [PFAF], Accessed Jan 29, 2015

Echium Sp. - Viper's-bugloss

"Annual, biennial, [perennial herb], shrub; strigose to bristly-hairy. Leaf: basal and cauline, linear to lanceolate, entire. Inflorescence: panicle-like cymes, terminal; branches 3–many, ± spike-like. Flower: radial to ± bilateral; calyx deep-lobed, often longer in fruit; corolla throat straight or ± curved, lobes equal or not; stamens 5, attached below mid-tube, included or exserted; style exserted. Fruit: nutlet erect, short, ovate, 3-angled, scar basal, flat.
40 species: southern Eurasia, Africa. (Greek: viper, from nutlet shaped like viper's head) Several entities cultivated for ornamental, especially on California coast, some potentially naturalized, some may be hybrids. Unabridged references: [Bramwell 1972 Lagascalia 2:37–115]" [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Echium vulgare - Viper's bugloss [E-flora]


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