Viper’s Bugloss, Blue-weed, or Blue-thistle – Flowers

(Echium vulgare)

Borage family

Flowers—Bright blue, afterward reddish purple, pink in the bud, numerous, clustered on short, 1-sided, curved spikes rolled up at first, and straightening out as flowers expand. Calyx deeply 5-cleft; corolla 1 in. long or less, funnel form, the 5 lobes unequal, acute; 5 stamens inserted on corolla tube, the filaments spreading below, and united above into slender appendage, the anthers forming a cone. 1 pistil with 2 stigmas. Stem: 1 to 272 ft. high ; bristly-hairy, erect, spotted. Leaves: Hairy, rough, oblong to lance-shaped, alternate, seated on stem, except at base of plant.

Preferred Habitat—Dry fields, waste places, roadsides.

Flowering Season—June—July.

Distribution—New Brunswick to Virginia, westward to Nebraska; Europe and Asia.

In England, from whose gardens this plant escaped long ago, a war of extermination that has been waged against the vigorous, beautiful weed by the farmers has at last driven it to the extremity of the island, where a few stragglers about Penzance testify to the vanquishing of what must once have been a mighty army. From England a few refugees reached here in 1683, no one knows how; but they proved to be the vanguard of an aggressive and victorious host that quickly overran our open, hospitable country, as if to give vent to revenge for long years of persecution at the hands of Europeans. ” It is a fact that all our more pernicious weeds, like our vermin, are of Old-World origin,” says John Burroughs. “…Perhaps the most notable thing about them, when compared with our native species, is their persistence, not to say pugnacity. They fight for the soil; they plant colonies here and there, and will not be rooted out. Our native weeds are for the most part shy and harmless, and retreat before civilization. We have hardly a weed we can call our own.”

Years ago, when simple folk believed God had marked plants with some sign to indicate the special use for which each was intended, they regarded the spotted stem of the bugloss, and its seeds shaped like a serpent’s head, as certain indications that the herb would cure snake bites. Indeed, the genus takes its name from Echis, the Greek for viper.

Because it is showy and offers accessible nectar, a great variety of insects visit the blue-weed; Muller alone observed sixty-seven species about it. We need no longer wonder at its fertility. Of the five stamens one remains in the tube, while the other four project and form a convenient alighting place for visitors, which necessarily dust their under sides with pollen as they enter; for the red anthers were already ripe when the flower opened. Then, however, the short, immature pistil was kept below. After the stamens have shed their pollen and there can be no longer danger of self-fertilization, it gradually elongates itself beyond the point occupied by them, and divides into two little horns whose stigmatic surfaces an incoming pollen-laden insect cannot well fail to strike against. Cross-pollination is so thoroughly secured in this case that the plant has completely lost the power of fertilizing itself. Unwelcome visitors like ants, which would pilfer nectar without rendering any useful service in return, are warded off by the bristly, hairy foliage. Several kinds of female bees seek the bugloss exclusively for food for their larva’ as well as for themselves, sweeping up the abundant pollen with their abdominal brushes as they feast without effort.