January 28, 2020

A Garden-Variety Viper

Echium vulgare - Viper's Bugloss

Janine Pineo Photo | Echium vulgare – Viper’s Bugloss

Viper’s Bugloss is, scientifically speaking, Echium vulgare, a European species found in the United States since about 1683. Part of the forget-me-not family, this annual herb is considered a wildflower throughout most of the country, although to some it is a weed. This bushy plant, which doesn’t mind poor soil, grows from 1 to 2 1/2 feet in height, with flower clusters that unfurl as the flowers bloom. The blossoms range from white to pastel shades of pink and purple, and it keeps blooming from June through fall. As to name, Viper’s Bugloss, there are a couple of explanations in the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers.” The viper part may be related to the shape of the nutlets, the cluster of seedlike fruit each flower bears, which resemble a snake’s head. Or it could be that the dried plant was considered a remedy for snakebites (it was used for centuries as a folk cure for fevers and inflammation). The bugloss portion comes from the ancient Greek word for ox tongue, because its leaves resembled one.