This Canary Island native has a tougher winter climate here to endure than back home. As an alpine growing on Tenerife, this plant is said to tolerate down to 20ºF with its characteristic dry winters…not so here. After a relatively mild winter here in inner SE Portland the later half of February chilled down with a little snow as shown here on Feb. 22. The official weather station at PDX recorded nine days at or below freezing in February ranging down to 23F on the 21st. This was a fairly ‘normal’ February temperature wise for us, though with just less than 2″ of precipitation, about half of normal, which could have aided its survival. At my location in inner SE we can record 5-6º warmer than PDX though we often move right in step, January was milder PDX recording below freezing temperatures on only two dates, the first and second…and we were right around freezing both of those days with just under 5″ of rain for the month. During December we were ‘blocked’ from lower temperatures that hit most of Portland. PDX recorded 14 lows below freezing, we suffered only six getting as low as 25º on one of them.
This shot, taken Feb. 24, shows my relatively unscathed plant. It has to survive only two more very minor freezes to maybe 30º-31º. Freeze damage on these show very quickly. It’s bio-chemical switch has already been thrown and its flowering stem is extending. Previously this has lived as a very dense silvery and furry rosette. As you can see my plant is growing on a south facing retaining wall with a sandier soil and some rubble below to help it with drainage.
March 27 and it is beginning to really extend. Temperatures have been very moderate for us and precipitation low at only 2.5″ or so. Be aware that precipitation is measured at PDX and is always lower than at my location which can be 10-20-30% or more higher annually.
March 27. Looking down at the rosette. When Echium begin flowering this spiral swirl of leaves forms twisting in the center.
March 27. These leafy bracts form at the base of each peduncle, or individual flowering stem. One is associated with each leaf. Like most of the member species of the Borage family, their leaves are ‘hairy’. This ‘hairiness’ protects this low latitude, sub-alpine,’desert’, plant from the very intense sun they are habituated to on Tenerife where they evolved at about 28ºN latitude off of the coast of Morocco, while growing between 4,200′-6,500’….Think of the Sierra Madre Occidental. of the state of Sinaloa, Mexico and its pine-oak forests.
April 9 Here you can see the flower buds differentiating, still held fairly tightly to the center stem. Each of these will begin extending.
April 9 At this point I began to worry the plant might topple, hence the twine support. I have had these unearth themselves before and it also gives me some minor assurance that if passersby pull on it….it will stay in place. At this point the flowering stem is over 50″ tall.
April 16, Echium wildpretii, has been ‘bolting’ for a few weeks. Here
May 1 Looking closely here you can see the individual peduncles extending away from the stem. Like most members of the Borage family Echium are coarsely hairy on all of their surfaces, other than their petals. The hairs can be irritating to touch. If you become involved with seedy cleaning when the entire plant begins to dry, you will become very aware of this.
April 28 And so it begins. Echium are members of the Borage family and bear a strong resemblance to the genus Borage, with 5 petals and stamen and an inferior ovary below the corolla. As a more ‘modern’ genus, these are members of the plant order Borageinales that belong to the humongous group known as the Asterids…the single largest group of Eudicots.
April 28 Flowering is beginning at an accelerating rate. The month of April here has been very normal for us, with the coldest temperature recorded being 34ºF, as have been the highs mostly ranging from 50ºF up into the mid-60’s, the exception being three consecutive, anomalous, days between 80º and 86ºF. We were also below normal rainfall at about 2.75″. Alpine Tenerife, where these plants are endemic, is mediterraneanEach peduncle extends in a coordinated manner with all of the others, giving the entire plant the appearance of forming an increasingly ‘fat’ tower.
May 4 On successive dates the ‘tower’ becomes pinker and ‘thicker’ in appearance. Here it is around 7′ tall.
April 28 Here its leaves appear to have had a ‘shock’ treatment as they narrow and twist.
May 1 Closer to the base the peduncles extend even wider.
May 1 Below, while the plant is flowering, the terminal is still extending, forming new buds and beginning to extend on their peduncles.
May 1 High on the plant
May 1 If you look closely at the individual flowers you will see that the 5 petals are fused at their bases to form the corolla. While not a unique characteristic, having fused petals in this way is indicative of almost all members of the Asterids.
May 16 I removed a single peduncle from the back side of the plant, The pattern of growth continues in an almost fractal manner, each branching, each bud marked by an even smaller silvery bract. The older flowers fade to blue.
May 16 Laying on the bed of lemon thyme below. Flowers are relatively heavy nectar producers and much favored by bees…though this seems to be a bad ‘bee’ year in my garden. Each flower will form
A close relative Anchusa azurea ‘Alkanet’, another member of the Boraginaceae
Even if yours succumb to winter and don’t bloom in their second or third spring, I find these well worth the effort here. I love the foliage which can form a rosette to 24″+ across. I’ve been growing this species for 15 years and this may be the fifth time its bloomed. I think I’ve only had to rebuy it once as it is very messy with its seed, producing seedlings all around it that are easy to prick out early in the season for potting up and moving about. Saving seed isn’t difficult either though cleaning it is a pain. literally, as the little hairs are everywhere, stiff and can get into your gloves, resulting in an irritating, itchy rash….but still worth the effort (I’ve done this very low tech by cutting the stem down, tipping and knocking the seed out over newspaper, crunching the fallen debris and then lightly blowing the chaff away, doing this a bit at a time. A large plant produces a lot of seed). Seedlings that volunteer look something like hairy Dandelions when small. Save some in an envelope to bridge a couple of bad winters and you should be good. Just remember good soil drainage, plenty of sun, the hotter the better here, with good air circulation. Don’t let its plant neighbors shade it and keep the organic mulches away that can hold moisture over the winter months. I’ve never tented mine, but you could.
I love this picture, one I took along my parking strip in 2003, Echium wildpretii growing with the leaf segments of a Trachycarpus fortuneii growing through it. I used a modified version of this on my business card.
Taken in the spring of ’03 along my parking strip. I had renovated and planted the strip two years previous. Sadly, dumbly I removed the Cistus x aguilari, don’t know what I was thinking! It had large crepe paper white flowers and heavily scented, sticky, glossy dark green leaves…oh well!
Not all Echium are from the Canary Islands. This one, E. russicum, is a zn6 plant from the Ukranian steppes, that I got from Greg and Paul at Xera. New for me, this perennial is getting ready to bloom with its rosy red flowers. While not exactly jaw dropping this perennial will reach up 24″-30″ and hopefully perform here next to my Agave montana, a couple different Eryngium and the Stachys ‘Primrose Heron’.
I only grew Echium pininana one cycle and it bloomed in summer of ’03. I discontiued it as its 12″ inflorescence arced dangerously into my front sidewalk and needed support that I couldn’t hide. I have tried a couple other Echium over the years, like the beautiful E. candicans, or Pride of Madeira, which requires a much broader space and consequently means a larger hole in the garden if and when it fails here..I only have so much space and energy to give each what it needs…so I continue with E. wildpretii.