Viper’s bugloss, or Echium vulgare, is a beautiful wildflower named for its winding, serpentine appearance. This blue and red flowering species grows wild and for ornamental purposes in various parts of the world. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the viper’s bugloss wildflower. We’ll cover its cultural significance, meaning, and symbolism, where to find the plant, how to grow your own, and more.

Ultimate Guide to Viper's Bugloss Flowers (Echium vulgare)

Meaning and Symbolism of Viper’s Bugloss – The Essentials

Viper’s Bugloss, known scientifically as Echium vulgare, is a wildflower with a spotted, upright stem and bright blue flowers. Its snake-like appearance may have contributed to its meaning in the Victorian language of flowers, as the viper’s bugloss represented the quality of falsehood.

About Viper’s Bugloss Flowers (Echium vulgare)

About Viper's Bugloss Flowers (Echium vulgare)

There are plenty of fun facts to learn about the viper’s bugloss, from its scientific classifications to where and when you can find them growing. Let’s take a look at the flower’s fascinating roots before learning how to grow and care for your own.

Scientific Classification of the Viper’s Bugloss

The viper’s bugloss is a flowering plant that falls within the Boraginaceae, or borage, family, also known as the forget-me-not family. The plant’s genus is Echium, which completes its official scientific name of Echium vulgare.

Botanical Characteristics of the Viper’s Bugloss

The viper’s bugloss makes a bold statement with its striking blue flowers. The buds start off pink and fade into a bright shade of violet-blue as they mature. The plant also has rough, spiky leaves and a winding vertical stem.

Viper’s bugloss flowers have blue pollen and red stamens, which contribute to its vivid coloring. Its stem is thick and spotted with a rough texture, and can cause irritation if it comes into contact with the skin. Despite its bold visual appearance, the viper’s bugloss does not have a notable scent.

History and Origins of Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Viper’s bugloss was first discovered in Europe and Asia, and it now thrives as an introduced species in northeastern North America, New Zealand, and Chile. It is also known as an invasive species in Washington state, USA.

Popular Types, Species, and Cultivars of Viper’s Bugloss

Despite its bristly appearance, the viper’s bugloss is a popular wildflower. Multiple cultivars have been developed, including the purple viper’s bugloss, or Echium plantagineum. This is a softer variety with larger flowers that is favored among gardeners.

Another popular cultivar is the blue bedder, which earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. This cultivar is shorter than the standard variety, with a shrub-like appearance and clustered flowers.

Etymological Meaning

The viper’s bugloss gets its name because of its winding, snake-like stems. However, the word bugloss comes from the Greek bou, meaning ox, and the Latin glosso, meaning tongue. This may be due to the plant’s rough texture and tongue-shaped leaves.

Additionally, the genus name Echium comes from the Greek echis, which means viper. Here are a few of the other common nicknames for the viper’s bugloss.

  • Blue devil
  • Blue weed
  • Adderwort
  • Blue thistle
  • Snake flower
  • Viper’s herb
  • Viper’s grass

What regions are Viper’s Bugloss native to?

Viper’s bugloss is native to most parts of Europe as well as western and central Asia.

When is Viper’s Bugloss in season?

While the viper’s bugloss genus of Echium can be evergreen perennials, annuals, or biennials, this plant reveals its vibrant blue flowers in the summer months.

Uses and Benefits of Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Uses and Benefits of Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Although the so-called blue devil can irritate the skin and stomach, its root was once used as a topical herbal remedy for snake bites. However, this plant is not recommended as a topical or internal treatment today. Its rough texture can cause dermatitis on contact with bare skin, and all parts can cause an upset stomach if taken internally.

Many gardeners grow viper’s bugloss varieties for ornamental purposes, especially in wild or informal garden environments. However, it is most common to find the plant growing wild in meadows and dunes, on cliffs, or even by roadsides. Its flowers are also excellent for attracting many insects, especially pollinators like honey bees and butterflies. In fact, it is commonly known as a favorite flower of the painted lady butterfly.

Viper’s Bugloss Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Viper's Bugloss Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Viper’s bugloss buds change from pink to a bright violet-blue as they flower. This shade of blue often symbolizes royalty, luxury, or mysticism, but the Victorian language of flowers has a different meaning for this plant.

In the Victorian era, the language of flowers, or floriography, was a way for people to convey meaning with certain flowers and arrangements. It assigned the meaning of falsehood to the viper’s bugloss plant. This may be due to the serpentine appearance of its stems and the common association between snakes and deception.

In ancient history, the viper’s bugloss is referenced by Homer. According to the story, Helen of Troy offered Echium vulgare to her guests during a dinner gathering. At the time, the plant was used to lift the spirits and relieve headaches and nervous energy.

The Cultural Significance of Viper’s Bugloss

The Cultural Significance of Viper's Bugloss

The viper’s bugloss is a popular wildflower in many regions around the world. In fact, it is known as the county flower in East Lothian, or Haddintonshire, a county located on the coast of Scotland near Edinburgh.

The poem “Outer and Inner” by George Meredith, an English novelist and poet during the Victorian era, also references the viper’s bugloss. A line reads, “Along my path is bugloss blue…” The poem continues with a description of typical wildflowers and plants found in the poet’s native England.

Aside from these examples, there are not many references to this snake flower in religion, mythology, art, or literature. People enjoy the plant most by observing it growing wild in its natural habitat.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Viper’s Bugloss Flowers

Due to its rough, spiky texture, we do not recommend giving viper’s bugloss as part of a flower arrangement for any special occasion. As it can irritate the skin, it is best left to grow outdoors, inspiring joy from afar with its striking appearance.

How to Grow and Care for Viper’s Bugloss Flowers at Home

How to Grow and Care for Viper's Bugloss Flowers at Home

Viper’s bugloss is a hardy plant that can endure rough conditions and poor soils. It grows best in the wild, anywhere from pastures and meadows to rocky cliffs. However, this plant grows and spreads aggressively, so it is not recommended for flower beds, containers, or hanging baskets.

If you are planting wildflowers in a wide, open space, you may consider adding viper’s bugloss into the mix. Here are the optimal conditions for growing this vibrant plant.

  • Suitable USDA hardiness zones: Viper’s bugloss grows best at USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.
  • Soil preferences: This plant grows well in various soil conditions, including loam, chalky, or sandy environments.
  • Light requirements: Viper’s bugloss grows well in direct sun.
  • Watering frequency: This plant grows best in well-drained soil and is tolerant of dry conditions.
  • Fertilizing needs: The optimal condition for growing viper’s bugloss is soil with moderate fertility. Planting in soils with high fertility may result in fewer buds and more foliage.
  • Propagation: You can propagate your viper’s bugloss plant by seed.
  • Additional needs: Viper’s bugloss does not require pruning, though you can limit spread by removing flowers before seeds mature and fall.

The plant is excellent for attracting pollinators, but be mindful of their aggressive growing tendencies. Some gardeners consider them weeds as they can overtake and outcompete other plants in their environment.

However, if you find a suitable spot to grow viper’s bugloss, they add a bold touch of color and bring honey bees and butterflies in droves. Leave them to grow wild and enjoy the many benefits of their beautiful flowers year after year.

Wrap Up

Viper’s bugloss is a striking wildflower to spot growing in meadows and wildlife gardens. Whether you’re taking in their vivid coloring or growing your own to attract pollinators, you’re sure to enjoy the vibrant visual quality the viper’s bugloss brings to its environment.

Viper’s Bugloss Flower FAQ:

The viper’s bugloss is a tall plant with pink buds that turn to a vivid shade of violet-blue. It has rough leaves and an upright, spotted stem that its flowers grow from vertically. The flowers have blue pollen and red stamens, contributing to the plant’s striking and colorful appearance.

Yes, the viper’s bugloss is considered toxic to cows and horses, as it causes an excess amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids to develop in the liver. It may also cause an upset stomach in humans and irritate the skin on contact.

Viper’s bugloss is not seen as an invasive species in most areas where it grows. However, it is listed as an invasive species in Washington state, USA.

The viper’s bugloss is considered to be either a biennial or monocarpic perennial plant.

No, the viper’s bugloss is not considered rare or endangered. It is native to many parts of Europe and Asia and now grows in areas of North America, Chile, and New Zealand.

Petal Republic’s flower and plant guides:

Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s expert guides to Roses, Cardinal Flowers, Auricula, Ambrosia, Lilies, Irises, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, Bluebells, Clovers, Borage, and Peonies.  

Contributing Editor | Full Bio | + posts

Brandy Wells is an American copywriter and content writer living in Spain. From hiking in her hometown near the Smoky Mountains to digging in the dirt in rural Oregon, she has always put a love of nature at the heart of her endeavors. These days, you’ll catch her writing content, and of course, taking breaks to tend to her growing houseplant collection.

Author Brandy Wells

Brandy Wells is an American copywriter and content writer living in Spain. From hiking in her hometown near the Smoky Mountains to digging in the dirt in rural Oregon, she has always put a love of nature at the heart of her endeavors. These days, you’ll catch her writing content, and of course, taking breaks to tend to her growing houseplant collection.

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