This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This plant is found in the Temperate Northern Zone in Europe, N. Africa, and W. Siberia, and has been introduced in N. America. There is no trace of it in any early deposits. In Great Britain it is not found in Hunts, Cardigan, I. of Man, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Westerness, Main Argyle, Dumbarton, Cantire, N. Ebudes (or only in Clyde Islands, and Mid Ebudes in W. Highlands), Sutherland, Orkneys, Shetlands, but elsewhere generally. It is an alien or colonist in Scotland.
Viper's Bugloss is essentially a plant of cultivated ground or of waste ground. It occurs, though rarely, in woods, where it is only an escape from these habitats. It is associated with Mayweed, Wormwood, Chicory, Mullein, Yellow and Creeping Toad Flax, and many other casuals and aliens.
It is an erect plant with a very softly-hairy, wart-covered stem, armed with prickly bristles, with narrow, lance-shaped, stiffly-hairy stem-leaves, which are stalkless, narrow below, with a single rib.
The name Bugloss, from two Greek words, is given in reference to the roughness of the stem and leaves, like an ox's tongue. The flowers are like Lungwort, pink at first, then blue, and so variegated. They are borne on four or more lateral, scorpioid cymes, and all turned one way. The calyx is longer than the tube of the corolla, as are also the projecting stamens. The cymes are bent back. The nutlets are angular and rough.
The plant is 2 ft. high. It flowers in July and August. Viper's Bugloss is a herbaceous biennial plant increased from seeds.
The flowers are conspicuous. Honey is accessible to many different insects. The flower is funnel-shaped, tubular, and is narrower below, inclined obliquely upwards, which guides the visiting insects. There are 5 stamens, the lower part adhering to the corolla, one remaining in the tube dividing it into two, while 4 are projecting and form a landing-stage for insects, which dust their abdomen with the pollen, the flowers being proterandrous, turning their pollen-covered side upwards. The stigma is small at first, less than the tube, but becomes longer than the anthers, projecting 10 mm. beyond the tube, being divided into two short branches at the end. The honey is secreted by the fleshy base of the ovary. The mouth of the corolla, where the anthers lie free, is large enough for bees to insert their heads, and for small bumble bees to insert more than half their bodies, some entering bodily.
The flowers are visited by the honey bee, Diptera and Hymenop-tera, Lepidoptera, and Coleoptera. In addition to the large complete flowers there are smaller ones.
The nutlets are dispersed, after the carpels have split up into four, just round the parent plant, and so help to form clumps.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Viper's Bugloss (Echium Vulgare, L.)
One stage of a fungus, Puccinia rubigo-vera, grows on Viper's Bugloss. It is much frequented by beetles, such as Meligethes incanus, M. serripes, M. murinus, M. exilis, Longitarsus anchusae, L. nasturtii, L. exoletus. Coccinella mutabilis, Ceutorynchus echii; by several Lepidoptera, Odontia dentalis, Anescychia bipunctella, Depressaria rotundella, Coleophora onosmella, Marbled Clover (Heliothis dipsaceus), Small-angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara).
Echium, Dioscorides, is from the Greek name of the plant or a similar one, and the second name suggests that it is of common occurrence, which is not generally so.
Bugloss means Ox Tongue because of the roughness of the leaves. The name Viper's Bugloss is bestowed because there is some fanciful resemblance between the seeds and a viper's head, or the spots on the stem like a viper's skin. Blue Bottle, Blue Weed, Wild Borage, Bugloss, Viper's Bugloss, Cat's-tail, Blue Cat's-tail, Viper's Grass, Iron-weed, Langdebeef, Our Lord's Flannel or Our Saviour's Flannel, Snake Flower, Snake's Bugloss, Viper's Herb. Lyte explains the name Viper's Bugloss by the following quaint legend: "For as the ancient Nicander writeth, Alcibiades (being asleepe) was hurt with a serpent; wherefore when he awoke he saw this hearbe, he tooke of it into his mouth and chewed it, swalowing downe the juyce thereof; after that he layed the herbe being so chewed upon the sore, and was healed. It is very good against the bitings of serpents and vipers, and his seede is like the head of an adder or viper."
Even Gerarde recommends it as an ophifuge, "as it keepeth such from being stung as have drunke it before, the leaves and seeds do the same". This mythical remedy is of course arrived at by the logic of the Doctrine of Signatures.
Essential Specific Characters:219. Echium vulgare, L. - Stem simple, erect, rough, upper leaves lanceolate, sessile, narrow below, radical leaves ovate, stalked, flowers red then blue, in scorpioid cymes, lateral.