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Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss


A stunning looker when it flowers in its second year but not a plant to grow tired of as its roots extend deep into the ground.

Blog Entries

Read more about Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss, in these blog entries (most recent first);
An Australian dairy farmer blogs about Echium plantagineum, Patterson's curse.



Meaning of the Name

From the Greek, ‘echis’, ‘viper’.
An alternative for ‘vulgaris’ meaning ‘common’.

Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss

Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss

Common Names and Synonyms

viper’s bugloss, common viper’s bugloss, bluebottle, our saviour’s flannel, ironweed

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids like hound’s tongue and ragwort, though ragwort has a higher concentration. Consumption over a long period could cause irreparable liver damage.




There are no reported human poisoning incidents but there have been numerous reports of poisoning in animals especially sheep and horses. It seems, however, that most of these involve Echium plantagineum rather than the vulgare.

In 2003, bushfires in the Canberra area destroyed grazing and Echium plantagineum was the first to recover. It is reported that 40 horses were put down after becoming ill from eating the plant.

A 2006 paper details poisoning of bulls in Spain who ate both Echium vulgare and Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort.

in 2010, Montana State University published a leaflet about the plant, known as blueweed in the USA.

It is interesting that, although the plant has proven ability to be fatal to horses, it does not attreact the same hysteria from the horse community as ragwort.

Folklore and Facts

In Kent, the name 'our saviour's flannel' is applied to Verbascum olympicum, great mullein, apparently because of its soft, velvet smooth leaves. Bugloss, on the other hand, means ox tongue, apparently because of the roughness of the leaves. It is generally held that reverence limited the use of references to Christ in plant names so it is unlikely that the use was ironic. It may be an indication of Christ's suffering that even his flannel was rough and uncomfortable.

It is a noxious weed which, if present in pasture, requires great labour for its removal as the plant must be uprooted which, given that its roots extend several feet straight down, is a very difficult task.

Dioscorides recommended it for snake bite. William Coles, the proponent of the Doctrine of Signatures claimed the nutlets look like a viper’s head and the speckled stalk looks like snakeskin.

Echium vulgare is, sometimes, said to be the plant known in Australia as Patterson's Curse but this is Echium plantagineum (Purple Viper's Bugloss). It is called Patterson's curse because, it is said, a Mrs Patterson brought it to Australia to decorate her garden not knowing that it would thrive and escape and become a serious problem for livestock.

Like all plants containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, consumption over a period can lead to liver failure but no ill effects are seen initially. This leads to it being known as Salvation Jane in South Australia. It is drought hardy and may be the only foliage plant available in extended dry periods.