Echiums are related to borage and share similar characteristics, such as hairy stems and leaves, and nectar-rich flowers that are loved by pollinating insects. There are around 40 species of Echium that grow across Europe and Asia. These range from the common Echium vulgare, also known as viper’s bugloss (the seed looks a little like a snake’s head), to the gigantic Echium pininana or tree echium, that can grow to around 5m. The taller varieties originate from the Canary islands so will only grow in similar conditions and need protecting in the UK. However, they will usually self-seed prolifically, so will colonise your garden if allowed to. Be careful when handling, as the sap can irritate the skin and all parts of the plant are toxic if eaten.
Where to plant echiums
Echiums need free draining soil to enable them survive wet winters. They thrive in full sun but will tolerate shadier situations – they might get a little misshapen as they grow in the direction of the light. You can grow them in large containers and this may be the best option for the more tender varieties, as they will need to be overwintered indoors.