Vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare) is an upright flowering wildflower that grows to around 90cm. In full bloom its funnel-shaped blue flowers grow densely all around the stem from close to the ground all the way up to the tip, interspersed by dark green deciduous leaves. From the centre of the blue flowers sprout long black stamens that have given this flower its name, since they look not unlike forked snakes’.
This hardy biennial blue wild flower is a native species of wildflower in much of Europe and Britain. It is long flowering, from May to September, making it an ideal flower for planting in a wildflower garden aimed at attracting bees, butterflies and moths. Indeed, it is one of the RHS ‘perfect for pollinators’ wildflowers, as featured in their list of which garden plants and wildflowers are best for attracting pollinating insects.
Vipers bugloss is happy in full sunlight or in part shade, making it easy to plant and maintain. It is one of the many species available in a Meadowmat, a pre-planted roll of turf interlaced with a wide variety of wild flowers aimed at attracting as many native species of bees and butterflies and moths as possible.
Its most frequent visitors are the burnet moth (a small, distinctive-looking, brightly coloured moth that is often mistaken for a butterfly, with black wings covered with large red spots) and bumblebees, particularly the red-tailed and buff-tailed varieties. Painted lady butterflies and honeybees are also attracted to this non-scented, nectar rich wild flower. The large number of pollinating insects it attracts plus the length of time over which it flowers makes it an excellent choice for any wild flower garden. A well-pollinated garden obviously means that further flowers and plants will grow year upon year, but will also be crucial in supporting local wildlife.
Other names for this wild flower include Thistle Blueweed and Viper Grass, though it’s Latin name comes from the Greek ‘Ekbis’ (‘viper’) and ‘vulgaris’ (‘common’). Folklore will tell you that it was so named because snakes like to hide between the long, dense stems of groups of these flowers, or that it is poisonous. Indeed, ingesting a lot of viper’s bugloss over a long time will cause liver failure, but it is otherwise not terribly poisonous. The reason for its name is simply down to its appearance, which people believe to be rather like a snake.