Borage & Buglosses

Common Viper's-bugloss Common Borage Common Viper's-bugloss Abraham-Isaac-Jacob

What are they?

These plants are members of the borage family (Boraginaceae) and, though a little variable in appearance, their common feature is the cluster of rather long stamens that often projects beyond the length of the petals from the centre of the flower. The borage family contains a large number of familiar species that are grown as garden oramentals, as well as plants grown traditionally for herbal or medicinal use. They have flowers with five petals that are fused into a tube at the base but which are free at the mouth of the flower and are often rather bristly with stiff hairs.

Where are they found?

Most of the plants here are likely to be found as garden escapes or throw-outs in grassy places and on rough ground. Borage is still occasionally grown as a crop, from where odd plants may self seed the following year along field edges, while Common Viper's-bugloss is a plant of open, sandy ground.

Identification

Most of the species are fairly straightforward to identify based on their flowers and leaf shape. Some of the Viper's-bugloss species are rather similar and attention should be paid to the flower structure, especially the stamens.



Common Viper's-bugloss      Echium vulgare

Native on dry, sandy soils in coastal areas and - especially - in Breckland, where it can be temporarily abundant in fallow farm fields or cleared pine plantations. Flowers June to September. Forms bristly leaf rosettes in the first year. In the second year, flower spikes grow to nearly a metre in height, covered in blue flowers that open from red buds. Outside of flowers uniformly hairy, not just on the margins and veins; usually 3-5 stamens extending beyond the petal mouth. Occasionally plants may be pink or white.

Common Viper's-bugloss Common Viper's-bugloss Common Viper's-bugloss Common Viper's-bugloss
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Purple Viper's-bugloss      Echium plantagineum

Introduced as a garden ornamental from southern Europe with a handful of records of escaped plants going back to the early 19th Century. Flowers May to August. Outside of flowers hairy only on the margins and veins; usually only 2 stamens extending beyond the petal mouth. Very similar to Common Viper's-bugloss and best told apart by the flower detail, but also usually lower and more branched with smaller leaves.

Purple Viper's-bugloss Purple Viper's-bugloss Purple Viper's-bugloss Purple Viper's-bugloss
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Giant Viper's-bugloss      Echium pininana

Introduced as a garden ornamental from La Palma, Canary Islands. More recently has spread beyond gardens through self-seeding and survives well due to milder winters. Increasingly found in urban and suburban environments. Flowers May to June. Begins with a rosette of large, stiffly bristly leaves, the stem gradually hardening and eventually reaching up to five metres in height when in flower. Flower pink in bud opening pale blue and fading to whitish.

Giant Viper's-bugloss Giant Viper's-bugloss Giant Viper's-bugloss Giant Viper's-bugloss
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Common Borage      Borago officinalis

Introduced from southern Europe and still occasionally grown commercially as a crop. Odd plants turn up here and there on roadsides, field margins and rough ground but populations are short-lived. Flowers June to August. Easily recognised by its bristly leaves and distinctive flowers like no other species that is likely in the region. Flowers usually blue but occasionally pink or white.

Common Borage Common Borage Common Borage Common Borage
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Abraham-Isaac-Jacob      Trachystemon orientalis

Introduced from the Caucasus as a garden ornamental. Rapidly spreads and smothers other plants so crops up where garden waste is dumped. Long-lived with some extensive colonies known since the 1950s. Flowers April to May. Differs from other species in this group in its broad, rounded leaves which form dense, spreading mats and may grow to 50cm in length. Flowers appear early, before and with the early expanding leaves in spring.

Abraham-Isaac-Jacob Abraham-Isaac-Jacob Abraham-Isaac-Jacob Abraham-Isaac-Jacob
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Tansy-leaved Phacelia      Phacelia tanacetifolia

Introduced from North America. Widely grown as an agricultural crop and odd plants are occasionally found on roadsides and disturbed ground where seed may have been spilt. Flowers June to September. Brilliant purple-blue flowers in 'scorpion-tail' heads, above finely-cut leaves. The phacelias have their own page (click here) but this species is also included here because it can easily be mistaken for one of the viper's-buglosses.

Tansy-leaved Phacelia Tansy-leaved Phacelia Tansy-leaved Phacelia Tansy-leaved Phacelia
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