What is an Echium Plant? - Home Stratosphere

What is an Echium Plant?

Here's an in-depth look at the echium plants where you can learn about their characteristics, reproduction, growing conditions, and uses. We've also added some tips on how to grow and propagate these gorgeous herbaceous perennials.

Beautiful echium plants with bright purple flowers in full bloom growing in a mountainous landscape of tall trees and grasses

Genus Echium

The genus echium is proud to be host to about 70 species of flowering plants that are part of the borage (borageinaceae) botanical family. Many of the known species are endemic (only occur in one area) to luxurious places like the Canary Islands and Madeira Island.

Echium plants are a gorgeous herbaceous perennial (sometimes biennial or triennial) that will bring a stunning tower of color to your garden landscape. The name echium is the greek word for viper, which comes from the viper-like shape of each individual echium flower.

These plants are native to places like Europe, central Asia, northern Africa, and the Macronesian islands — meaning that they can be naturalized as a cultivated plant is regions that have a similar climate!

Echium plants are a highly coveted ornamental flowering plant that bloom in the early spring. They’re suited to many different climate types, they are beneficial to pollinators, and parts of them are also edible! Read on to learn how to incorporate one into your garden!

Wild purple echium flowers in full bloom in full focus with tall flower stalks of echium plants growing in the background

Table of Contents

Related: Sun-Loving Flowers | Water-Loving Flowers | Shade-Loving Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

Echium plants growing in a large cluster creating a shrub appearance with light blue flowers in bloom growing in a garden

What do Echium Plants Look Like?

Flowers

Echium plants grow striking, unique, and dramatic flowers. They are actually comprised of a very tall stalked flower spike that is covered in many small, tubular flowers.

Each flower will vary in size, usually with larger flowers growing at the bottom of the flower spike, and slowly shrinking in size along the length of the plant.

Echium flowers will also vary in color depending on the variety, with colors ranging from purple to blue, from pink to white. Flower buds usually bloom from late spring all the way through to late summer.

These flowers are incredibly rich in sweet nectar, and seeing as there are so many individual flowers on one plant, they are the ultimate hot spot for pollinators and other beneficial insects (like honey bees!)

Close up image of light violet echium flowers growing at the tip of a tall flower stalk with pollinators flying around

Leaves

Echium leaves are borne in a rosette. The rosette is comprised of lance shaped leaves with a bristly texture. Each leaf is a lighter green color.

Growth Pattern

Echium plants are impressive in their towering heights. Each flowering spike can reach heights anywhere from only 20 inches up to 4 metres high when they grow in the wild!

Each enormous flowering stem covered in rough, lance shaped leaves which helps protect the vulnerable and tender inner shoots.

What are Some Echium Species?

Giant Viper’s Bugloss (Echium Pininana)

Giant and impressive echium plant growing with large bristled leaves and small purple flowers growing in an ornamental garden

Giant viper’s bugloss, also known as tree echium, pine echium, or tower of jewels, is a flowering plant that is endemic to the Canary Islands.

This is a biennial or triennial plant, meaning that it will only have one or two flowering seasons, and then it will die. It is unfortunately an endangered plant species.

The giant viper’s bugloss is comprised of a flower spike of small blue flowers that are funnel shaped, and a rosette of light green leaves covered in silver hairs.

Pride of Madeira (Echium Candicans/ Echium Fastuosum)

Pride of madeira plant with long flower stalks and lance shaped spiral leaves with sprouting purple flowers against a light blue sky

The Pride of Madeira echium plant is native to the Madeira Island of Portugal, though is considered as being an invasive species in places it has been introduced to.

This herbaceous perennial subshrub can grow to be upwards of 1-2 metres tall with woody flowering stalks that covered in rough leaves. Flower heads can also be quite large, either growing as white flowers or blue flowers with red stamens.

Tower of Jewels (Echium Wildpretii)

Incredible tower of jewel echium plant with bright red ruby flowers in full bloom growing in the wild in an arid desert landscape

The tower of jewels, also known by the names or red bugloss, tenerife bugloss, or mount tide bugloss, is a herbaceous biennial plant that is endemic to the Canary islands.

This plant can grow to be over 3 metres tall (wow!) that first produces a very dense rosette of rough leaves, then a long flower stalk the bears red flowers. Once the plant flowers, it will die.

Blueweed (Echium Vulgare)

Macro image of blossomed violet flowers of the blueweed echium plant with bees visiting the flowers

Also known as viper’s bugloss, the blueweed is a biennial (or sometimes a monocarpic perennial) plant that has a large growing range, spanning from Europe to central Asia.

This species is a smaller variety – only growing to heights averaging from 12-30 inches – and is covered rough hairs. It grows oblanceolate leaves, and either pink or blue flowers with a blue stamen and blue pollen! (Hence the common name).

Red Feathers (Echium Amoenum)

Close up shot of full bloom red feather echium plant flowers growing along tall flower stalks

The red feathers echium plant is a native plant to specifically the Caucasus mountains of central Asia.

Only growing to 10-14 inches in height, this plant is a very short lived perennial that produces rough, lance shaped leaves, russet red flowers, and stalks that create a clumping growth habit.

Purple Viper’s Bugloss (Echium Plantagineum)

Stunning violet purple flower blossoms of the purple viper's bugloss echium plant growing along tall flower stalks in the wild

Purple viper’s bugloss, or Paterson’s curse, is a species of echium that is native to Europe. This is a winter annual plant that is considered as being as invasive in Australia.

This is a small species, only growing to be 15-30 inches tall, with hairy lanceolate shaped leaves, and purple flowers that are borne along branched flower spikes.

*This species is considered as being highly toxic as it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloid. These are naturally occurring alkaloids that act as a defence mechanism against herbivores to deter them from eating their flowers.

Where are Echium Plants Native to?

There are about 70 species of echium plants, many of which that are native plants to mainland Europe, northern regions of Africa, central regions of Asia, as well as the Macronesian Islands.

The remaining 27 species that are known are actually endemic to Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, and Madeira Island in Portugal.

When growing in the wild, these plants don’t need much to thrive. They will grow prosperously in well drained soils in areas that don’t receive much precipitation.

How do you Propagate a Echium Plant?

The easiest way to propagate your own echium plant (other than purchasing a seedling from a nursery) is right from the get-go, through sowing seed! Sow seed in the late spring or early summer, as they are short lived plants, and they will experience longer bloom seasons if they are planted in warmth.

Unique looking young echium plants growing in a dry rock garden next to large tree trunks with red flowers starting to bloom

Ensure that the soil being used is properly enriched with compost, and that it is entirely moistened. Once the plant is well established, it is not sensitive to soil moisture.

Sprinkle seeds on top of the potting mix and ensure that the tray or pot is in a well lit area in your home. Soil should be kept moist (through bottle spraying) until seedlings are about 4 inches in height.

Once they achieve this size, they can be transplanted outdoors! The most important part is choosing the appropriate place on your property.

Echium plants will thrive in an area that receives all day sun. Remember that these plants grow quite tall, so planting them next to a wall or structure can help them stand upright.

Since they are so large, they should be planted at least 12 inches apart from one another. Also remember to really pack the soil down as they are growing, as their height can sometimes result in the plant being uprooted and falling over.

What are the Growing Conditions of an Echium Plant?

Soil Type

Echium plants can tolerate almost any soil type as long as it is well drained. They will respond very well to compost enrich soil. They also prefer chalky soil or loamy soil more than any other.

Sun Exposure

Knowing the natural growing conditions of the plants, it would be wise to recreate that environment as closely as possible. One of the most important ways to do this is with sun exposure.

Echium is used to growing in almost desert like conditions, meaning that they need full sun. This will ensure that they grow properly upright.

Though they are able to survive partial shade, they tend to grow in the direction of the sun, and partial shade can result in them growing in a misshapen habit.

Incredible echium plants growing in large flowering stalks with gorgeous red flower blossoms in full bloom

Water Level

Echium plants aren’t too picky about water levels. Though young plants do have a requirement of consistently moist soil, well established plants are entirely tolerant to drought.

They only need to be watered once soil has dried out completely. Usually, the natural precipitation of an area will be sufficient for water upkeep – unless there is an unusually dry spell.

Temperature

The most particular growing requirement of echium plants is temperature. They are by no means a cold hardy plant, and can only exist in USDA growing zones 8 through 10.

That being said, it is possible to bring the plant indoors during the winter months as long as the indoor temperature is a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit or more. They can survive outdoors as long as it is a very mild winter.

Fertilizer

The echium plant does not require any type of fertilizer in order to prosper or to have a productive blooming season. They will be perfectly happy as long as that have soil that is enriched with organic compost.

Pruning

The only pruning that an echium plant requires is deadheading. This is the only way to control the reseeding of the plant, which is completely necessary in areas where they are considered as an invasive species.

Intolerances

All in all, echium plants are wonderfully easy to care for and do not require all that much to remain happy. Simply remember that they are not tolerant to waterlogged soils, nor are they tolerant to frost or winter temperatures.

Wild echium plants with bright blue flowers growing along tall flower stalks growing in a mountainous region

How are Echium Plants Used?

Ornamental Plant

Echium varieties are a highly coveted ornamental plant, and one should consider themselves lucky if they grow in a region that can support this striking and unique plant. You get a ton of garden merit points for growing one of these guys!

Their long flower stalks decorated with gorgeous sparkling flowers of various colors bring drama to any landscape – and not to mention all of the beneficial insects and pollinators that they will entice to your property as well!

Edible/Cosmetic Plant

The young and tender shoots of certain species echium plant can be eaten either boiled or steamed. ALWAYS REMEMBER to do all of your research before consuming a plant you’ve never eaten before.

Certain parts of the plant are also distilled in order to create echium oil that is used for cosmetic purposes.

Beautiful ornamental echium plants growing next to a rock wall in a garden next to a rose bush

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