Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

I know I’ve said this before, but I love this plant! It’s one of my very favorite, if the house was burning and I had to grab a handful of plants to escape with, this would be one of them… Of course in case of a fire, it’s doubtful I could move this specimen in a hurry, it’s half the size of my VW Golf. Ah reality, if only life worked more like the comic books. Anyhow back to the topic at hand.

I got this particular specimen of Echium Pinniana from Scent-sational Plants near Elk Lake. Mark and Pauline are a real gem in the Victoria plant scene and every visit offers something new to see. After spotting these earlier in the season I got added to a list, and when they were ready I was called to pick one up. Generally their policy with echiums is to determine if it will flower before sending it out into the world, afterall how does one overwinter a beast such as this. Since bringing it home it’s tripled in size, and is now probably the biggest plant I have in my collection.

Echium pinniana is another amazing plant native to the Canary Islands. The plant is considered a biannual and sometimes a triennial as it takes a couple years to get established before it sets out it’s flower. Being monocarpic E. pinniana dies after flowering but not before impressing all who see it. The flower stalks have been known to grow up to 18feet tall and are an absolute dream for the bees of the neighborhood. After flowering the plant dies and drops 1000’s of seeds ensuring that you’ll never be without an E. pinniana ever again. While the plants aren’t exactly suited for winters here in Victoria and the British Isle, it seems there is no shortage of people making an attempt. Can you blame them, this plant is incredible. The foliage alone makes it worth growing, huge tropical rossettes of spiny leaves, I feel like I’m in Jurrassic Park. Even some of my non plant wise friends seem to notice it’s dominating pressence. Echium pinniana is worth a try.

I must admit as summer continues to burn up and my echium refuses to put out a flower spike I’m beginning to worry it’s taking it’s time until next year. This move could be fatal of course, how in the hell am I going to move this thing if it doesn’t bloom in the next month and a half. Bribe one of my friend’s with a truck to move it to the greenhouses at work? Why yes this is exactly what I’m going to have to do. I can’t see this thing melt come the first flash FROST in November, that would be a sad day indeed.

Some people in Europe have hypothesized that E. pinniana could be breed via survival of the fittest in hopes of breeding a hardier hybrid of E. pinniana. While deep freezes of -6C and below will surely kill you E. pinniana some seedlings have been recorded to survive. Even stranger the frosts don’t seem to kill the seeds viability in the soil, many seeds in the soil will remain viable until spring even through wicked winters. I suppose there is hope yet. Once I get mine to flower I might attempt to do some selective breeding myself.

A word to the wise before handling E. pinniana.
The plant’s new leaves are soft and felt like, but as they get older the leaves develop an almost cacti like nature. While thinking it would be smart to carry my plant by the shaft, I got a handful of prickly spines in my hand. The fuzz above is a lot sharper then you’d think and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with a handful. Wearing gloves and avoiding too much contact would be a much easier solution. SMRT !

I grew E. vulgare last year which is a much smaller dwarf variety. The flowers are similar to E. pinniana but on a much smaller scale. Not knowing that it was a biannual at the time, I deadheaded the spent flowers and thus never saw it again. What a shame.

2 Responses to Plant Hoarding: Echium pinniana (Tree Echium)

  • I LOVE this plant! I bought one last winter which bloomed and is sadly gone (it rained at the whole thing just uprooted right out of the ground). What a stellar plant….do at least try to over winter yours!

  • Such a cool plant! I grew a bunch from seed a few years back and got them almost to the size that yours is now in their second year but they did not flower that summer and I did not manage to overwinter them a second time. I hope yours makes it or otherwise that you find a way to get it to the greenhouse.

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.