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Giant Viper's Bugloss

Echium pininana

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
4 metres tall
Gardens, parks, sand dunes, sea cliffs, seaside, wasteland.

Purple, 2 petals
The flowers of Echium pininana, also known as tree echium or giant viper's-bugloss, are visually striking and distinctive. Forming dense, elongated spikes that can reach impressive heights of 2 to 4 meters, and occasionally taller, these flower spikes are adorned with hundreds of small, tubular blooms. The flowers start blooming from the base of the spike upwards, creating a gradient of color from deep purples and blues to pale pinks and whites at the top. Each flower is about 1 to 2 centimeters long, with protruding stamens that give the spike a bristly appearance. The blooms are highly attractive to pollinators such as bees and butterflies, which are drawn to the nectar-rich flowers. Echium pininana flowers typically appear in late spring to early summer, adding a dramatic and vibrant display to gardens, especially in coastal areas or well-drained soils where they thrive.
The fruit of Echium pininana develops after the flowers have been pollinated and start to fade. The plant produces small, nut-like seeds within rounded, rough-textured capsules that are typically around 4-5 millimeters in diameter. These capsules are clustered together in a conical shape on the spikes where the flowers were located. As the seeds mature, the capsules dry out and become brownish in color. When fully matured, the capsules split open to release the seeds, which are then dispersed by wind or by falling to the ground. The seeds of Echium pininana are an important means of reproduction for the plant, ensuring its continued presence and spread in suitable habitats.
The leaves of Echium pininana are robust and coarse-textured, typical of plants in the Boraginaceae family. They are lanceolate (lance-shaped) to oblanceolate (inverted lance-shaped), often with a prominent midrib running down the center. The leaves are arranged in a rosette at the base of the plant and along the flowering stems. They can grow quite large, reaching lengths of up to 30 centimeters or more, and are densely covered with stiff, bristly hairs. The upper surface of the leaves is usually dark green, while the underside may appear lighter or grayish due to the dense hair covering. These hairs serve multiple purposes, including reducing water loss through transpiration and providing some protection against herbivores. Overall, the leaves of Echium pininana contribute to its robust appearance and are an integral part of its adaptation to dry and sometimes harsh environmental conditions.
Echium pininana does not typically have a strong or notable scent associated with its flowers or foliage. Unlike some other plants in the Boraginaceae family that may have aromatic qualities, Echium pininana is primarily valued for its visual appeal rather than its fragrance. The flowers themselves are more attractive to pollinators due to their color and nectar content rather than any distinctive scent. Therefore, if you're seeking plants with fragrant qualities, Echium pininana would not be a suitable choice.
Other Names:
Pine Echium, Tower of Jewels, Tree Echium.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information

Echium pininana, commonly known as tree echium or giant viper's-bugloss, is a striking biennial plant belonging to the Boraginaceae family. Native to the Canary Islands, it has become naturalized in several regions worldwide, including parts of the United Kingdom. Known for its impressive height, Echium pininana can reach up to 4 meters tall or more, with tall spikes adorned with hundreds of small, tubular flowers. These blooms range in color from deep purples and blues to pale pinks and whites, attracting numerous pollinators. The plant's leaves are large, coarse-textured, and covered in stiff hairs, contributing to its robust appearance. Echium pininana prefers well-drained soils and is often found in coastal areas, cliffs, and occasionally in gardens where it self-seeds readily. While it is appreciated for its ornamental value, particularly in gardens with a maritime climate, Echium pininana is not edible and does not have a notable fragrance. Its lifecycle as a biennial involves flowering in late spring to early summer, after which it produces nut-like seeds in rough-textured capsules. Overall, Echium pininana is prized for its dramatic floral display and architectural presence in garden landscapes.

Embracing the Majesty of Echium pininana: A Closer Look at the Tree Echium

In the realm of botanical wonders, few plants capture the imagination quite like Echium pininana, also known as tree echium or giant viper's-bugloss. This towering biennial from the Boraginaceae family casts a spell with its commanding presence and striking floral display, making it a favorite among gardeners and nature enthusiasts alike. Originating from the Canary Islands, Echium pininana has found its way into various parts of the world, including parts of the United Kingdom, where it thrives in coastal habitats and enriches landscapes with its breathtaking beauty.

A Towering Presence

One of the most captivating features of Echium pininana is its impressive height, which can reach up to 4 meters or more. This towering stature is crowned by elongated spikes adorned with hundreds of delicate, tubular flowers. The blooms cascade in a gradient of colors, ranging from deep purples and blues to softer pinks and whites, creating a visually stunning spectacle that beckons pollinators and human admirers alike. In gardens and natural settings, these floral spires serve as beacons of natural beauty, adding vertical interest and a touch of wild charm.

Botanical Details

The structural integrity of Echium pininana is owed in part to its robust leaves, which form a basal rosette and extend along the flowering stems. These leaves are characterized by their coarse texture and dense covering of stiff, bristly hairs—a feature that not only enhances the plant's resilience to environmental stress but also contributes to its distinctive appearance. The plant's adaptation to well-drained soils and coastal conditions further underscores its resilience and suitability for a variety of garden settings, particularly those with a maritime climate.

Seasonal Delights

The lifecycle of Echium pininana unfolds in a series of seasonal delights. In late spring to early summer, the plant bursts into bloom, marking its biennial flowering phase. The flowers emerge sequentially along the spike, creating a dynamic display of color that evolves over time. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are drawn to the nectar-rich blossoms, contributing to the ecological vibrancy of the garden or natural habitat where Echium pininana thrives.

Seed and Legacy

As the flowering season concludes, Echium pininana transitions to seed production. The nut-like seeds develop within rough-textured capsules clustered along the spent flower spikes. These capsules eventually mature and split open, dispersing seeds that hold the promise of new life and future generations of this remarkable plant. This natural process underscores Echium pininana's role in ecological succession and its adaptation to diverse habitats, ensuring its presence in landscapes for years to come.

Cultivation and Appreciation

In gardens, Echium pininana commands attention as a focal point or backdrop plant. Its architectural form and seasonal blooming make it a sought-after addition to coastal gardens, cliffside landscapes, and even urban green spaces where its resilience and aesthetic appeal are celebrated. Gardeners often cultivate Echium pininana for its ability to self-seed, creating spontaneous displays of floral grandeur that evolve with each passing season.

Beyond Ornamentation

While primarily prized for its ornamental value, Echium pininana holds cultural and ecological significance. Its ability to thrive in coastal environments underscores its adaptation to maritime climates, where it contributes to local biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. Moreover, the plant's presence in gardens and natural habitats serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness between flora, fauna, and human stewardship—a testament to the enduring allure of botanical diversity.


In conclusion, Echium pininana stands as a testament to the majesty of nature and the artistry of botanical evolution. From its origins in the Canary Islands to its cultivation in gardens worldwide, this biennial giant embodies resilience, beauty, and ecological importance. Whether gracing coastal cliffs, urban landscapes, or private gardens, Echium pininana invites us to appreciate the wonders of the natural world and the transformative power of botanical diversity. As we cultivate and cherish these floral ambassadors, we honor their role in enriching our lives and connecting us to the natural rhythms of the Earth.

In gardens and beyond, Echium pininana remains a beacon of natural splendor—a towering testament to the timeless allure of botanical wonders.

30 Giant Viper's Bugloss Facts

Here are 30 facts about Giant Viper's Bugloss (Echium pininana):

  1. Echium pininana is commonly known as Giant Viper's Bugloss or Tree Echium.
  2. It belongs to the Boraginaceae family, which includes many other well-known plants like borage (Borago officinalis).
  3. Native to the Canary Islands, Echium pininana has naturalized in various regions globally, including parts of the United Kingdom.
  4. The plant is biennial, meaning it completes its life cycle in two years.
  5. It is renowned for its towering height, often reaching up to 4 meters (or more) in favorable conditions.
  6. The flower spikes can contain hundreds of individual flowers, arranged in a conical shape.
  7. Flower colors range from deep purples and blues to soft pinks and whites, creating a gradient effect along the spike.
  8. Echium pininana blooms from late spring to early summer, attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  9. It prefers well-drained soils and is often found in coastal habitats, cliffs, and occasionally in gardens.
  10. The leaves are large, coarse-textured, and covered with stiff, bristly hairs.
  11. Despite its beauty, Echium pininana is not edible and can be toxic if ingested.
  12. The plant does not have a notable fragrance associated with its flowers or foliage.
  13. In gardens, Echium pininana adds vertical interest and a wild, naturalistic charm.
  14. It is sometimes cultivated for its ability to self-seed and naturalize in appropriate climates.
  15. The seeds develop within rough-textured capsules that split open when mature.
  16. Each flower produces a single seed, contributing to the plant's reproductive cycle.
  17. Echium pininana is well-adapted to maritime climates, making it suitable for coastal gardens.
  18. The plant's robust nature allows it to withstand windy and exposed conditions.
  19. In its native habitats, Echium pininana plays a role in local biodiversity and ecosystem stability.
  20. It has become a subject of interest for botanical gardens and conservation efforts due to its unique characteristics.
  21. Echium pininana is sometimes confused with other Echium species due to its similar appearance.
  22. The plant's name "viper's bugloss" derives from its supposed resemblance to the head of a viper snake.
  23. In addition to its ornamental value, Echium pininana has inspired artists and garden designers.
  24. The plant's naturalized presence in certain regions has sparked debate over its ecological impact.
  25. Gardeners often prune Echium pininana after flowering to promote healthy growth and seed production.
  26. It requires full sun to thrive and may struggle in shaded or overly wet conditions.
  27. The lifespan of Echium pininana can vary depending on growing conditions and climate.
  28. It has been introduced to countries with Mediterranean climates, where it has adapted well.
  29. The plant's seeds are sometimes collected and used for propagation in gardens and restoration projects.
  30. Echium pininana serves as a reminder of the beauty and resilience of plants in diverse ecosystems.

These facts highlight the botanical, ecological, and cultural significance of Giant Viper's Bugloss (Echium pininana) in various landscapes worldwide.


Giant Viper's Bugloss filmed at the following locations:
  • Mousehole, Cornwall: 8th and 12th June 2024
  • Newlyn, Cornwall: 8th June 2024
  • Penzance, Cornwall: 8th and 9th June 2024
  • Land's End, Cornwall: 10th June 2024

Music credits
Easy Jam by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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