Echium vulgare L.

Blueweed, Viper's Bugloss


CC = *
CW = 5
MOC = 17

© SRTurner

Family - Boraginaceae

Habit - Taprooted biennial forb.

Stems - Erect, to 80 cm, solitary or occasionally few, usually unbranched below the inflorescence, densely pubescent with minute, usually downward-pointed hairs and scattered to dense, longer, stiff, strongly pustular-based hairs, green with purple spotting (from pustular bases).

Echium_vulgare_stem.jpg Stem and leaf nodes.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Basal and alternate, sessile. Basal leaves sometimes withered at flowering and with the blades tapered at the base to a short or long petiole, the stem leaves mostly sessile and progressively reduced toward the stem tip. Leaf blades 2-25 cm long, 5-30 mm wide, those of the basal and lower stem leaves oblanceolate, those of the median and upper leaves narrowly oblong to narrowly lanceolate, tapered to angled or rounded at the base, mostly angled or short-tapered to a sharply pointed tip, the surfaces and margins moderately to densely pubescent with stiff, bristly, spreading to somewhat ascending, pustular-based hairs. Stem leaves short-petiolate to sessile, the blade 1-7 cm long, 2-8 mm wide, linear to narrowly lanceolate, angled or tapered at the base, without noticeable lateral veins, otherwise similar to those of the basal leaves.

Echium_vulgare_leaves1.jpg Lower stem and leaves.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_leaf1.jpg Leaf adaxial.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_leaf1a.jpg Leaf adaxial surface.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_pressed_leaves.jpg Pressed leaves.

© DETenaglia

Inflorescence - A panicle of numerous short, helicoid cymes, the branch points with leaflike bracts 1-6 cm long, the flowers with short, leaflike bracts, sessile or nearly so. Bracts and axis of inflorescence pubescent and with stiff hairs.

Echium_vulgare_inflorescence1.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_inflorescence2.jpg Inflorescence detail.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Calyces more or less actinomorphic, 5-lobed nearly to the base, the lobes 5-7 mm long at flowering, sometimes becoming elongated to 6-10 mm at fruiting, narrowly triangular, bristly-hairy, persistent and ascending at fruiting. Corollas 12-20 mm long, more or less funnelform, zygomorphic, the upper 2 lobes longer than the other 3, bright blue (pink in bud), the tube 8-12 mm long, the throat lacking scales, the lobes 2-5 mm long, more or less ascending, rounded to bluntly pointed, hairy on the outer surface. Stamens attached at different levels below the midpoint of the corolla tube, the filaments elongate (1 shorter than the others), the anthers oblong to somewhat heart-shaped, long-exserted from the corolla. Ovary deeply 4-lobed, the style long-exserted from the corolla, finely hairy, usually withered at fruiting, the stigma capitate, strongly 2-lobed. Cleistogamous flowers not produced.

Echium_vulgare_flower.jpg Flower.

© DETenaglia

Echium_vulgare_flowers.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_calyces.jpg Calyces.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_corolla.jpg Corolla.

© SRTurner

Echium_vulgare_flower2.jpg White form.

© DETenaglia

Fruits - Schizocarps dividing into mostly 4 nutlets, these 2.0-2.8 mm long, erect to slightly oblique, angular-ovoid with a relatively sharp ventral keel, attached to the relatively flat gynobase at the base or nearly so, the attachment scar surrounded by a collarlike ring, bluntly pointed at the slightly oblique tip, the surface strongly longitudinally wrinkled and warty or tuberculate, dark brown to nearly black with tan to white raised areas.

Flowering - May - September.

Habitat - Streambanks, upland prairies, forest openings, pastures, gravel bars, railroads, roadsides, open disturbed areas.

Origin - Native to Europe.

Lookalikes - None.

Other info. - This striking species is best viewed and not handled. The sharp, spiny hairs, which cover the plant, are a powerful deterrent and can become lodged in the skin much like those of a cactus. In Missouri this species is mainly found toward the southeastern region of the state, and appears to have expanded its range only slightly since the time of Steyermark's 1963 publication. It is found commonly in the northeastern U.S., with more scattered populations in other parts of the country.

Though it should not be deliberately spread in the wild, this plant makes a good garden subject. It tolerates poor, dryish soils, producing more flowers than when grown in a rich area. It is easily grown and will reseed itself. Several cultivars have been developed as ornamentals.

Species of Echium, as well as several other borages, contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These appear in honey produced by bees nectaring on the plants, and in milk produced by cows grazing on the plants. These have been considered human health threats in cases of chronic exposure over long periods. Long-term grazing on the plants can also cause liver damage to livestock.

The plant has been traditionally used as a snakebite treatment, presumably deriving from the Doctrine of Signatures, since the seeds are said to resemble viper's heads. This use accounts for one of the common names. Various herbals have recommended the plant for treatment of a range of ailments, including colds, coughs, fevers, headache, water retention, kidney stones, inflammation, pain, wounds, reddened skin, boils, and depression.

Photographs taken off Highway 106 in Ellington, MO., 6-8-01, and off Hwy 40, Iron County, MO., 6-1-03 (DETenaglia); also at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, Reynolds County, MO, 6-20-2011 and 10-1-2018, near Pea Ridge Mine, Washington County, MO, 6-8-2013, near the Bee Fork River near Reynolds, Reynolds County, MO, 6-20-2022, and near Eminence, Shannon County, MO, 5-19-2023 (SRTurner).