Viper’s bugloss: the butterfly magnet


For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

Common viper’s bugloss is also known as blueweed or purple viper’s bugloss and is considered to be rather invasive. With its deep blue flowers with soft pink accents, viper’s bugloss can add a burst of colour to any garden.

White butterflies feeding on purple viper's bugloss flowers
The viper’s bugloss blossoms attract loads of insects – including at least 40 species of butterflies [Photo: Marek Mierzejewski/]

Insect populations in Europe are dwindling, so it is important that we all do our bit to support them. Your garden is a great place to start, and viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) is just the right flower for this. It is a beautiful native plant that attracts a wide variety of insects and is easy to care for. This article will give you tips for incorporating the plant into your garden.

Origin and characteristics of viper’s bugloss

Viper’s bugloss is one of our native wildflowers. It grows across the UK, most commonly in the South, but can be found throughout Europe and Asia. When in bloom, the plant’s buds are pink and then gradually turn to a deep blue. This striking blue, along with the protruding stamen and pistil makes the viper’s bugloss very easy to recognise. Viper’s bugloss leaves are lanceolate and a deep green, and the green stem is often covered with red spots. Viper’s bugloss is a member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), meaning that it is densely covered with bristles. The flowering period of this biennial plant is quite long, between May and October, much to the delight of garden owners and insects alike.

Viper’s bugloss flowers with protruding stamens and red spotted stems
Viper’s bugloss can be identified by its long stamens and split stigmas that stick out from the deep blue flowers and the reddish dots on its stem [Photo: Lipatova Maryna/]

Planting and caring for viper’s bugloss

Common viper’s bugloss thrives in warm, sunny, dry places, and can often be found on railway embankments or other dry, ruderal areas. So, ideally plant your viper’s bugloss in a sandy, stony or gravelly spot that gets plenty of sun. The easiest way to do this is by simply sowing seeds. The plant is very robust and does not tend to dry out, so it is only necessary to water it for the first few days after planting.

Viper’s bugloss does not require any care, as it survives naturally in dry, nutrient poor environments. It is also perfectly fine in Winter, and simply retreats into its taproots in the colder months.

As viper’s bugloss is biennial, the first year will yield only a rosette of leaves. In the second year, the plant will develop shoots with flowers, after which the plant will die. However, it can self-seed and regrow if the flower stalks are left in the ground. If you wish to avoid this, you can remove the plant after it has died.

Blue flowering viper’s bugloss growing along dry, rocky path
Viper’s bugloss loves sunny and nutrient-poor sites: so it is often found along paths or railway embankments [Photo: Birgitta Kullman/]

Viper’s bugloss: an insect magnet

As a native wildflower, viper’s bugloss has a lot to offer to insects. With a long flowering period (May to October) and nectar that is high in sugar, the plant attracts plenty of visitors. There have been at least 20 different species of butterfly recorded on viper’s bugloss, including the bull-headed butterfly (Thymelicus) and the stunning swallowtail butterfly (Papillo machaon). The flower of the viper’s bugloss provides a valuable food source for hoverflies, honeybees and wild bees. Two native species of wild bees are actually specialised to feed on this plant.

Wild bee feeding on blue viper’s bugloss flowers
Common viper’s bugloss is a food source for several butterfly and wild bee species [Photo: YvonneH/]

The viper’s bugloss mason bee (Osmia adunca) and the rock viper’s bugloss bee (Osmia anthropoids) are only found where viper’s bugloss grows. This means that viper’s bugloss is perfect for insect-friendly gardens and wildflower meadows for bees.

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