Claire compiled today’s entry:
Steve H from Northumberland, UK submitted the close-up photograph of Echium vulgare flowers via the Botany Photo of the Day Submissions Forum. Thank you Steve! The second photograph of the plants growing in the dry ditch and forming a mosaic of blue was taken by Daniel mid-June in 2009, in Lower Nicola, British Columbia.
Viper’s bugloss, blue-devil and blueweed are some common names for Echium vulgare. The species is a native of Europe and much of central Asia, but it has also naturalized in other parts of the world as well, including North America.
There are over 2700 species in Boraginaceae recognized worldwide (with most from Europe and Asia), though that number may change as the phylogeny of the group is resolved (see the Classification section from the link — may be split into possibly 11 families!). Like Echium vulgare, many species in this family are herbs with prickly-hairy leaves. The coarseness of the hairs (caused by silicon dioxide and calcium carbonate deposits) can be quite an irritant to skin if plants are handled. Though the annual, biennial or short-lived perennial Echium vulgare is ornamental with its succession of blue flowers (caused by anthocyanin pigments) and height (to 1-2m, though sometimes shorter), it can also be a noxious, persistent weed in some regions. If interested in it for your garden, please take the time to research whether it is an appropriate planting for your area.
Other species of Echium are known to contain alkaloid compounds that can cause harm to livestock, even killing cattle, sheep and horses. Another member of the genus, Echium plantagineum, has been cited by the NNFCC (UK’s National Non-foods Crop Centre) as being a useful oil crop (link to page with fact sheet).