Eye-catching echiums

Picture a forest of outlandish, spiky plants, two or three metres tall, their spires bearing hundreds of tiny flowers, looking more like the creation of a rogue plant geneticist than a suburban gardener. What a way to make a statement in your garden!

[Note- All the amazing photos below are from Wikipedia commons, which permits free use with accreditation- see details at the end of this post.]


Photo 1

There are about 60 species of echium, which are related to borage and comfrey, some annuals, some perennials. They’re native to North Africa, mainland Europe and the Macaronesian islands. Their flowers come in a colour palette including bright blue, purple, white and pink. They’re tough and drought tolerant.


Photo 2

The annual forms can be highly prolific, sometimes invasive, self-sowing and growing vigorously. Perennial echiums grow easily from cuttings.

In flower they attract bees and other beneficial insects, aiding in pollination of vegetables and fruit trees, and keeping spring pests under control. The large, softly hairy grey-green leaves look good all year round.


Photo 3

Echiums like full sun and well-drained soil, tolerating long periods without water. They are quite frost tender so should be planted when the last chance of frost is past. They also don’t like too much humidity. Having said all that, I’m aware of some Mudgee gardens where echiums grow very successfully- I’ve had two seedlings growing since last spring and I’m hopeful they may survive the very heavy frosts we get here in winter.


Photo 4

The best known ornamental echium is E. candicans, originally from the Canary Islands. It forms a large bush two or more metres tall with 20-30 spikes of purple flowers in spring. Several exceptional cultivars can be seen growing in the Digger’s Seeds garden, at Heronswood, on the Mornington Peninsula. The Diggers Seeds online catalogue is worth looking at just to see the many varieties available. I tried a few of their seedlings some years ago but they were very quickly attacked by grubs which ate out the growing tips- apparently there are butterfly species which favour echiums to lay their eggs in.

Annual echiums generally die after flowering, but may become short-lived perennials if the spent flower heads are cut back in summer.

Echium wildpretii (Boraginaceae)

Photo 5

Some interesting echium facts:

  • In Crete the tender shoots of Echium italicum, known as voidoglosses, are eaten boiled or steamed.
  • The seed oil from Echium plantagineum contains high levels of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA), used in cosmetics and skin care products, and as an alternative to fish oils.
  • Echium plantagineum (locally known as “Patterson’s Curse” or “Salvation Jane”), is a major invasive species in Australia, after being introduced in the 1880’s as a source of food for grazing ruminant animals in drought times. Unfortunately, it’s toxic to non-ruminant animals. After the 2003 Canberra bushfires, over 40 horses reportedly died after eating the weed.
  • Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) honey is a favourite floral honey product of New Zealand.

Photo 6 (left) and photo 7 (right)

My mother, Anne, introduced me to echiums- they were a favourite and suited her garden of bright, eye-catching plants. I collected seed last winter, and will try my luck with them next spring.


Photo 8

Photo 1 by Hnsjrgnweis – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49228120

Photo 2 By Mark Pellegrini – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6676724

Photo 3 By Mark Pellegrini – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=667672

Photo 4 by Garavitotfe – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15511519

Photo 5 by $pooky – https://www.flickr.com/photos/spoo/2745372908, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4638249

Photo 6 by Jörg Hempel, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60025872

Photo 7 by Bjoertvedt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38600372

Photo 8 by Citrus limon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33186967









16 Comments Add yours

  1. Echiums are amazing! I don’t think you’ve visited the post I did on Echium wildpretii, 9 Dec 2017 so you might be interested to take a look at the last 2 photos in the post (taken by my husband Nigel at Dunedin Botanic Garden, New Zealand in Nov 2015). It was love at first sight when I saw this beautiful plant with its impossibly tall pink flower spike set-off by the silver foliage! Never had I imagined such a plant!

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      These plants certainly have an impact the first time you see them. Great photos from the Dunedin Botanic Garden, too!

      1. Thank you! Its a great place to visit!

  2. The Denver Botanic Gardens have some of these! I saw them for the first time this spring, and they’re amazing plants.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Once seen, never forgotten!

  3. Margaret Brennan says:

    Thanks Jane. Love your blog. It was great to have a chat last night. Sorry if I bored you with old memories, but I could not believe the connections!! Hope to catch up soon and talk gardens.
    Love the echiums – have grown some before and hope I can find a spot for them in my new garden. Waited for weeks for one to finally bloom and it turned out to be white, when I was expecting blue.
    Thanks for your blog.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Margaret, thanks very much for your comments. It was very energising to be in a room full of enthusiastic garden lovers! Good luck with the echiums, and watch out for grubs, as mentioned in the blog. I think Mudgee needs more echium so, so let me know how you go with them!

  4. tonytomeo says:

    Those things are so weird. Shrubby forms are rarely planted into drought tolerant (but not native) landscapes. The tall ones are even more rare. When I was a kid they grew along the edge of Highway One in San Mateo County. They got VERY tall, and then fell across the frontage road. We knew them as blue missiles. Now, we planted a few varieties at work, but they do not like getting watered where they are.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Blue missiles, another great name for these plants- yes, weird is what they are!

      1. tonytomeo says:

        I disliked them when I was a kid, but now that the tall ones are uncommon, I am pleased that one of my colleagues has taken an interest in them, and planted a few at work.

      2. My Dream Garden says:

        I’m rapidly becoming slightly obsessed with them…

      3. tonytomeo says:

        Such obsession used to easier when there were fewer specie and varieties. If you got five different echiums, you might have gotten all of them. There are so many more now.

      4. My Dream Garden says:

        I think they are just a bit scary-looking…

      5. tonytomeo says:

        When I saw them in otherwise well tended gardens in Sonoma County, I thought they looked shabby, as if they were something that grew only where the weeds were not cut down on the roadsides.

    2. My Dream Garden says:

      Great memories from the past too.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        They seem coastal to me, just because that is where I saw them. Most grew on the sides of Highway 1, but I also remember them in home gardens on the coast of Sonoma and Marin Counties.

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