viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare)
common viper's bugloss
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of viper's bugloss
is Echium vulgare L. Genus name comes from the Greek word for viper
(echis). Vulgare means common. 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.
The 'dimpled' appearance of the leaves and bright blue to purple flowers
of viper's bugloss helps to distinguish this weed from most other weed
species. When in the rosette stage, this weed might be confused with
curly dock (Rumex crispus), but curly dock does not have white-speckled
and 'dimpled' leaves like viper's bugloss.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States; occassional, non-natural-
ized in Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: Viper's bugloss is a herbaceous, biennial plant originally introduc-
ed from southern Europe. The stem is erect, branching, reaching 2 1/2 feet
in height, "wart" covered, with relatively long, bristly hairs. The stem is
often spotted with red and sometimes the leaves also.
Leaves: As a biennial, it produces a basal clump of rosette leaves are ob-
long to linear- lanceolate in outline, 2 to 6 inches long and reaching 1 1/4
inches in width in the first year. Rosette leaves narrow to a short petiole.
Leaves that occur on the flowering stem are also oblong to linear-lance-
olate in outline but do not have petioles and are quite entire and rough on
both sides. Flowering stem leaves also become progressively smaller up
the stem. All leaves have white 'speckles' that give the leaves a dimpled appearance and also have relatively long white hairs.The root-leaves form
a tuft nearly 18 inches to 2 feet across and are petioled.
Flowers: The flowers are bright blue to purple in color (on their first open-
ing they are bright rose-coloured and turn to a brilliant blue), approximate-
ly 8 to 12 mm long and rise from the basal clump to 2.5 feet tall. The flow-
ers open, one or two at a time. A variety is occasionally found with white
flowers. Flowers somewhat resemble a funnel and also have external hairs
and protruding red stamens.
Fruit/Seeds: Flowers give way to rough nutlets (generally four small nut-
lets) and the plant then dies. Plant nutlets are reported to resemble snake/
viper heads. The nutlets are dispersed, after the carpels have split up into
four, just round the parent plant, and so help to form clumps.
Roots: The taproot/roots descend to a great depth in the loose soil in which
the plant generally grows.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Viper's bugloss propogates itself by re-
HABITAT TYPES: Viper's bugloss is essentially a plant of cultivated
ground or of waste ground. It occurs, though rarely, in woods, where it is
only an escape from these habitats. It can be commonly found in sunny
borders, cottage gardens, wild gardens and naturalized areas and is fre-
quently encountered in pastures, fields, disturbed sites, waste places and
roadsides. It is associated with mayweed, wormwood, chicory, mullein,
yellow and creeping toad flax, and many other casuals and aliens.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: It is easily grown in average, dry to med-
ium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates poor soils. Rich
fertile soils produce excess foliage with fewer flowers. It grows on walls,
old quarries and gravel pits, and is common on calcareous soils.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Viper's bugloss blooms from late May
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Viper's bugloss is found throughout the
continential United States and Canada with the exception of the extreme
southeast states and the extreme southwest states and the far northern
territories of Canada.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The flowers are conspicuous. Honey is
accessible to many different insects; the flowers are visited by the honey
bee, Diptera and Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera, and Coleoptera. The flower
is funnel-shaped, tubular, and is narrower below, inclined obliquely up-
wards, which guides the visiting insects. There are 5 stamens, the lower
part adhering to the corolla, one remaining in the tube dividing it into two,
while 4 are projecting and form a landing-stage for insects, which dust
their abdomen with the pollen, the flowers being proterandrous, turning
heir pollen-covered side upwards. The stigma is small at first, less than
the tube, but becomes longer than the anthers, projecting 10 mm. beyond
the tube, being divided into two short branches at the end. The honey is
secreted by the fleshy base of the ovary. The mouth of the corolla, where
the anthers lie free, is large enough for bees to insert their heads, and for
small bumble bees to insert more than half their bodies, some entering
Brought over from Europe in Colonial times, viper's bugloss' reputation
among gardeners runs the gamut of opinion from an aggressive weed to
an attractive wildflower.
Species of genus Echium are grown as an oilseed crop because of the fatty
acid composition of the seed oil. Like borage and evening primrose oil, it
contains significant amounts of gamma linolenic acid, but it also contains
the rarer stearidonic acid.
Crooked Run Valley