Pride of Madeira

On our last visit to the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, we came across an impressive cluster of thick stems (clearly some years old)  standing about 3 feet tall, with conical clusters of buds at the top of the stems. The only label we could find was for an obviously irrelevant plant (a daisy-like composite).

But then this morning we went back, and it was in gorgeous purple-blue bloom. Back home, I thought to try a strategy that almost never works in Google searches: describing the plant (“tall spires of purple flowers”), but this time I hit paydirt right away, with a page devoted to plants with tall stalks of purple/blue flowers. Echium candicans aka fastuosum:

(#1)

From Wikipedia:

Echium candicans (syn. Echium fastuosum …), commonly known as pride of Madeira, is a species of flowering plant in the family Boraginaceae, native to the island of Madeira [off the southern coast of Portugal]. It is a large herbaceous perennial subshrub, growing to 4 ft 11 in–8 ft 2 in.

In the first year after germination the plant produces a broad rosette of leaves. In the second and subsequent years more or less woody flowering stalks are produced clothed in rough leaves. The flower head is large and covered with blue flowers having red stamens. It is much visited by bees and butterflies for its nectar.

(It’s reputed to be invasive in some places in (at least) Australia and California.)

The names tell a story:. First, Lat. echium ‘viper’, a name taken from the type species for the genus Echium, Echium vulgare, common name viper’s bugloss, a common weed with cultivated forms, illustrated here:

(#2)

The plant was said to repel venom and hence to cure snakebite. From Coles’s herbal Art of Simples:

‘Viper’s Bugloss hath its stalks all to be speckled like a snake or viper, and is a most singular remedy against poyson and the sting of scorpions.

You can see the speckles in #2. We’re dealing here with the medieval doctrine of signatures, which says that if a plant resembles something (especially a part of the body) , it can be used as an herb to treat afflictions having to do with that thing. Looks like a viper, use it to treat snakebite.

So much for the viper (or echium). The bugloss part I dealt with in a 5/7/16 posting on the weedy original of E. vulgare. Drawing in #4 there, plus this information:

bugloss is ‘oxtongue’ (bu- ‘ox, cow’ as in bucolic, Bucephalos, and boustrophedon, related to bovine and much more; gloss- ‘tongue’ as in glossary, diglossia, glossolalia, and more)

Back to the gorgeous E. candicans / fastuosum. More Latin: candicans ‘white, frosty’ (an allusion, I assume, to the silvery leaves), fastuosus, -a, -um ‘proud, haughty’ (it stands proud and tall).

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