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Echium

Boraginaceae
Perennials, Shrubs

Grown for their striking form and flower clusters. All do well in dry, poor soil but need good drainage. All are excellent for seacoast gardens. Flowers attract bees. Give little or no water in mild-summer climates, weekly irrigation during summer in hotter areas.

Echium candicans (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Echium candicans (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Echium candicans

From Madeira, as its common name indicates. Large, picturesque plant grows to 5–6 ft. tall and 6–10 ft. wide, with many coarse, heavy branches. Narrow, hairy, gray-green leaves form roundish, irregular mounds at ends of stems. Great spike-like clusters of 1/2-in., bluish purple flowers stand out dramatically, well above the foliage, in spring. Branch tips and developing flower spikes may be killed by late frosts.

Use for bold effects against walls, at back of wide flower borders, or on slopes. Prune lightly to keep bushy. Cut off faded flower spikes to prevent rampant reseeding.

Echium vulgare
Echium vulgare

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Echium vulgare

Biennial grown as an annual. European native blooms the first year if sown between early fall and earliest spring. Grows to 1–3 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide. Leaves are covered with stiff white bristles; blue, white, or pink flowers appear in spikelike clusters. Endures aridity and poor soil. Seeds freely and can become a pest if seedlings are not hoed out.

Echium wildpretii (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)
Echium wildpretii (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)

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Echium wildpretii

Striking oddity from the Canary Islands spends its first year as an attractive, roundish mass of long, narrow leaves covered with silvery gray hairs. It starts to grow the second year. By mid- or late spring, it forms a 6–10-ft.-tall column, 1 ft. or more in diameter, made up of many little rose to rose-red flowers. When all the flowers have faded, the plant dies, leaving behind many seeds. The resulting seedlings may grow and bloom the next year if they are not hoed out.

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