What is it?

Upright biennial with blue-purple flowers throughout summer.


Height: 1m. Spread: 30cm. 

Where to grow

Border in full sun and well-drained soil.

Distribution Map

Blue dots: native occurrences
Red dots: introductions
© BSBI & BRC, reproduced with permission

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A bright and bold biennial, this relative of borage relishes full sun and can give a spectacular display right through the summer.

This really is a plant that conjures-up the idea of viper. It grows easily from seed and in the first year produces a flat rosette of long, wavy-edged leaves that are covered in soft prickles. The following year, these rosettes elongate into one or more stout, upright stems, clothed for most of their length with blue flowers. These emerge on little side branches, coiled like cobras at first, that slowly unfurl and produce flowers in succession for weeks on end. The large blue-purple flowers flare widely at their mouths, and a tuft of stamens and stigmas protrude from each, giving the impression of a snake about to strike. Once flowering is over and seed has been set, each plant dies.

This species is denizen of dry, grassy and disturbed places where there is plenty of lime in the soil. It often pops up on bare patches of soil on chalk downland and limestone grassland where rabbits and badgers have been burrowing. Around the coast, it grows on cliffs and shingle, and can occur in spectacular abundance on sand dunes; one area of dunes in Yorkshire is known as the ‘blue mountain’ because of it. It also grows in quarries, on cultivated and waste land, and along railways and disturbed roadside verges.

Viper’s-bugloss is easily grown in a sunny spot on well-drained soil, preferably with a bit of lime in it. Seeds are best sown in autumn, either directly where you want them to flower or in pots for planting out the following spring. Make sure you sow a few seeds every year to ensure a continual display. If it likes your garden, you might find that it seeds itself gently around.

Viper's-bugloss on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. Photo © Trevor Dines / Plantlife

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