Echium is a genus of 40 species of hardy and half-hardy annuals and biennials - the biennials within this family will actually flower from seed in their first year if sown early enough in the spring. However, of all the Echium species in cultivation today, the one that attracts the most interest is the magnificent Echium pininana.

Echium pininana, also called Tree Echium, Pine echium and Giant Viper's bugloss, is a plant native to La Palma in the Canary Islands. Even though its 'roots' are clearly sub-tropical, Echium pininana is now successfully grown in the gardens of Britain and Ireland - be it with a little cultivational help.

Echium pininana x wildpretii
Be that as it may, Echium pininana is in reality half-hardy, but it will readily self-seed to form clusters of new plants. It has been suggested that - over time - a hardier variety will emerge by natural selection .

When grown from seed, the Echium pininana will produce a stem 2 -3 ft tall, with lanceolate, deep green, rough hairy leaves.

In the follow second or third year, the key feature of this plant is its enormous flower spike which pushes the over height of the Echium pininana to over 12 feet. With this in mind, if you are planting multiple Echium pininana in your borders then they should be planted 4 ft apart.

Echium pininana has long been confused with Echium wildpretii - a rare species with silvery, hairy leaves and shorter, red flower spikes.

However, a hybrid exists - Echium pininana x wildpretii which produces pink flowers. It is a more compact specimen, reaching a height of appropriately 9 ft.

How to grow Echium pininana from seed

Echium pininana seedlings
As handsome as these impressive plants are, they can be difficult to locate and expensive to buy. However, they are easily grown from seed.

Sow Echium pininana seed 3mm deep in good seed sowing compost - such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' - from late May to late July.

Germination takes 7-14 days at 18-20 degrees Celsius. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into 3 inch pots containing John Innes 'No. 3' compost and over-winter in a cool greenhouse, conservatory or on a well lit windowsill with a temperature of around 7 degrees Celsius. Provide adequate ventilation when the temperature exceeds 13 degreed Celsius.

Plant Echium pininana out the following spring 4ft apart, into a sunny site with a light, dry, well drained soil.

Although this species is proving to be quite cold hardy, its best to cover the base of the plants with a little bracken or similar over the winter.

For related articles click onto:
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THE CANNONBALL TREE -  Couroupita guianensis
THE DOG TOOTHED VIOLET - Erythronium 'pagoda'
The Dragon Blood Tree 
The Tree Fern
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Based on an article from Based on an article from the Readers Digest Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers ISBN 0-276-00086-2
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