Echiums are a range of biennial and perennial species from the Canary Islands and through Europe as well as into the Russian Steppes (E. russicum, with rich red flowers).They prefer a well drained sunny position and some species are frost tender.
Most species seed freely but generally will not become weeds.
We have cultivated a range of species as well as hybrids as described below. Many hybrids occur naturally, but it is limited by the timing of the various species' flowering times. Generally E. fastuosum flowers first, followed by E. handiensis, then E. simplex, then E. wildprettii, then E. pinniniana, and finally E. vulgare. The hybrids usually flower at intermediate times compared to their parents, which helps work out the actual parentage. [check out the highlighted links to jpegs]
This is commonly known as the "pride of Madera", and is a perennial, shrubby species with royal blue and occaisionally pale blue flowers on short spikes up to 0.5m (20") long. It has soft foliage, usually greyish green, and will tolerate light frost. It will seed reasonably freely and will hybridise. It is usually grown from seed, though good forms may be grown from cuttings.
This is like a smaller version of E. fastuosum, with smaller foliage and flowers, but has the added advantage of setting a second flush of flowers if the old flower stems are removed as the last flowers fade. It is usually sky blue or paler. It only tolerates light frost.
It will set seed but is probably best grown from cuttings of a selected form.
This is possibly the most widely known and most dramatic of all the species we have in NZ and can grow up to 5m (16') if conditions are favourable.
It is biennial and occaisionally triennial if struggling. It forms rosettes of leaves up to 1m (3') across, the leaves being a little rough to the touch due to the fine sharp hairs. About August or September the plants which are going to flower that year begin to grow quickly in the centre of the rosette of foliage and the flower stem develops quickly.The flowers are blue or pinkish purple, depending on the seedline and the soil conditions. (it will cross with E. wildprettii or E. simplex)
If a plant is not going to flower, it can be made to branch by cutting the growing tip out with a sharp knife in October. This will create a multi-headed plant which will produce up to 6 flower spikes the following year (a hybrid jpeg illustrates the effect).
This tender variety is triennial or almost perennial, but dies after flowering. It is the hardest species to get to flower if the conditions are marginal, but is truely impressive when it does. The flower spikes grow up to 2m (6') and are usually pure white, with the spike tapering to a fine point at the tip. It will hybridise.
The foliage is silvery-green, due to the closely pressed hairs on the leaves.
This is a weed of roadsides in the North Island, or the general countryside in drier parts of the South Island. It prefers hot sunny conditions, and produces a good honey flow when most other nectar sources have dried up.
We had a race of golden foliaged plants of this species for quite a few years in our garden. This race arose when a variegated plant flowered and some seedlings came up with lime green or golden floiage. The flowers were still a mid blue colour.
This interesting species is possibly the hardiest when it comes to frost, but it will not tolerate too much wetness, and can rot out if the weather stays too wet for too long. The foliage is long and pointed, and covered with silver hairs, giving the plant an overall appearance of very pale silvery-green.
It is refered to as the red echium, but the flowers are more a scarlet-red rather than true red. The flower spike seldom reaches 2m(6'). It seeds reasonably well, and will hybridise with other species.
The most common hybrid seen in NZ is E. fastuosum x E. pinniniana, being the two most commonly grown species. They are often perennial, and effectively giant fastuosum types. Their color varies from light to royal blue, but seldom has the pinkish or purplish tones present in E.pinninana.
We have had E. pinniniana x simplex pale blue and pinkish grey-blue seedlings in the past few years too.
Other hybrids tend to be intermediate between their parents.