Echium pininana - Boraginaceae


A blue flowering biennial that will grow gigantic flower stalks in its second year. Unusual in its appearance, considered tender in the UK. Also a favourite food source for wildlife.


EN: Giant Viper's Bugloss or Tower of Jewels, D: Riesen-Natternkopf, FR: -, ESP: -, ZH: -

A very tall evergreen, rosette-forming biennial, sometimes flowers for a second season, although considered a herbaceous it will get very woody and tough, with long lance-shaped leaves that are rough to the touch, carried on a thick red woody stem, the whole plant is densely covered in coarse silvery hair, in the second year the terminal bud shoots rapidly up forming smaller leaves, flowers in summer, each rosette carries one huge flower spike in its second year, which is covered in numerous small funnel-shaped blue flowers with large bracts which are much loved by bees! The plant usually dies after flowering, very few may flower another season, collect fresh seeds and sow immediately for the next succession.

All parts may cause stomach upset if ingested.

Height: up to 4m (up to 12ft)

Echium pininana is highly architechtural, creating dramatic effects if you have the space.

Flowers for a long time during mid- and late-summer.

During the summer water freely after planted but keep dry during the winter to help it through the cold season. Getting it through its first winter is the challenge, rewarded by those amazing flower spikes the following summer. Usually needs winter protection (fleece cover etc.) unless in mild area, no pruning required as biennial. Do not disturb roots!

Easy by seed, sown fresh in summer when it is warm and sunny, overwinter seedlings frostfree and protected at around 5-7°C, flowers in its second year (biennial), self-seeds in ideal conditions in the South of England. Try and plant out as soon as, they do not like being in pots. Do not disturb roots! They hate being moved.

Flower stalk, the whole plant is covered in coarse hair.

Meaning of plant name:
ECHIUM: viper (greek), used by Dioscorides for a plant to cure snakebite

PININANA: pini= pine like, nana=very small, dwarf (greek)

Origin: Canary Islands

Young plants in their first year have very attractive foliage. As a biennial it flowers in its second year.

Growing conditions:
Prefers very well-drained open soils, sand, chalk or loam, will not grow in clay, acid or alkaline, best in full sun, tolerates partial shade, also good in coastal (salty air) conditions if storm protected, the tall flower stalks are very strong and withstand some wind but might break in extreme gales.

Hardiness: H2 - Tolerant of low temperatures, but not surviving being frozen (1 to 5°C)

Pests and Diseases: Sometimes slugs will feed on young seedlings, once grown a little bit leaves soon become too rough and hairy.

Other useful information:

Echium pininana in different stages: one year old seedlings amongst flowering two year old ones.

That is how tall Echium pininana can grow: an exceptional specimen,
well over the usual 4m. Seen at NT Overbecks, Devon, UK

In contrast a more normal-sized specimen, only 2m tall.
In the background self-sown one year old seedlings for next years flower.

Forest of Echium pininana at Ventnor Botanic Garden on the Isle of Wight, UK

A typical flower of the Boraginaceae family: Echium pininana

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