This section is from the book "Wayside And Woodland Blossoms", by Edward Step. Also available from Amazon: Wayside And Woodland Blossoms: A Guide To British Wild-Flowers.
Our artist has chosen to delineate a specimen of this striking plant that has passed its prime in a flowering sense. To our mind the Viper's Bugloss is prettiest when only one or two flowers are open on each cyme. The recurved cymes are then very short, and the unopened flowers packed closely together. As in Lungwort (p. 9), the unopened corollas are purplish-red in colour, when opened bright blue. After flowering, the cymes lengthen until they are as long as shown in our illustration. The parts of the flower, it will be seen, are in fives: calyx five-parted, tubular corolla with five-lobed "limb," as the free portion is called, stamens five, stigma two-lobed. The lobes of the corolla are unequal, and one of the stamens is shorter than the other four, which protrude from the corolla considerably; in fact, they serve as a platform upon which insects alight. When the flower opens the anthers are ripe and shed their pollen, so that bees or other insects alighting are sure to get their under surface dusted with it. At this period the pistil is short and immature, so that it cannot be fertilized by-its own pollen; but as the pollen disappears the pistil lengthens, until its stigmas are in the position where they are bound to receive pollen brought on the under surface of a visiting insect. The leaves are strap-shaped, long, and rough with hairs.
Much fault is found with scientific names on account of their uncouthness and obscurity. But they are mostly derived from Greek and Latin roots, and reflect some peculiarity of the plant; whereas many of the English or Folk-names are most arbitrary, and require much explaining, which is sometimes not easily done. "Viper's Bugloss" is a puzzle, and authors have pretended to see likenesses to a viper in the markings of the stem, the shape of the flower and of the seeds; others have taken shelter behind Dioscorides, who said that a decoction of the plant was a protection from the effects of a viper's bite. If a man knew he was going to be bitten by a viper and took a certain dose of this plant beforehand he was all right! But the word bugloss seems a worse puzzle than the plant's connection with vipers. Most dictionaries will help to the extent of telling that bugloss is the name of a plant, and no more. The truth is, it is as Greek as any scientific name, being compounded of the words Bous, an ox, and glossa, a tongue, from its leaves being rough, like the tongue of an ox.
It is common on gravelly and chalky soils, flowering from June to August. It is rich in honey, so that it is much frequented of sweet-tongued insects. The name Echium is from the Greek Echis, a viper.