Echium pininana | Giant Echium ‘Blue Steeple’
Echium pininanas common name is Giant Vipers Bugloss, Tree Echium, Tower of Jewels, and Pine Echium and is one of the true giants of the herbaceous plant world. It’s a biennial or triennial that is native to La Palma on the Canary Islands and is surprisingly well suited to milder, maritime areas.
It first forms a rosette of long, spear-shaped, bristly, silvery-green leaves in the first year, followed in the second year (and sometimes not until the third year) by a single, bold, tapering flower-stem up to 13 ft in height (with 18 ft recorded)! The stretching spire is covered by hundreds (or thousands) of showy, densely-packed, red to violet-blue flowers that gives the impression that it’s one single towering-flower! The flower spike starts its show early to mid spring (May for us) and continues to flower for months. It attracts pollinators from all around. Bumblebees never leave it which makes us wonder if they ever go back home? Plants set seed after bloom and then die. Will self sow reliably, although seedlings may not survive the winter(s) in zone 9 or lower.
Cold hardy to around 25F for short durations of time. Can survive lower temps if planted in a sheltered site. We’ve had Giant Echium rosettes survive outdoors with HEATED protection in zone 8 with snow on the ground for extended periods of time where temps reached 10F. We use 5 gallon or 55 gallon drum heaters with a plant blanket over top. They’re not cheap and they do use quite a bit of electricity, but they DO work successfully, even in cold and wet temperate climates. However, we advise using them only when necessary. It is more common for folks to move Echiums into a greenhouse for the winter, or cover with plant blankets/fleece in warmer areas. The key is to make sure they have good drainage. Since plants can take 1-3 full years to mature, one may also choose to plant the plant and its container straight into the ground and then remove it before storing it in the greenhouse for the winter again.
‘Blue Steeple’ Giant Echium holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Type: Biennial or triennial
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: 8-13 ft!
Hardiness zones: 9-11 (zone 8 with heated protection)