From a gardener’s perspective, flowering plants that attract bees, butterflies, and birds while deterring deer from a daily nibble are a welcome addition to the yard. One such plant, blueweed (Echium vulgare), has pretty blue blossoms and makes for an attractive centerpiece in any garden bed, but comes with a surprising price tag to our ecosystems and economy as a highly invasive plant.
Invasive plants grow rapidly and spread quickly, causing damage to the environment, economy and our health. They are also the second greatest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Introduced from Europe, blueweed is a biennial to short-lived perennial, and considered regionally noxious under the BC Weed Control Act. Blueweed is commonly found on roadsides, drainage ditches, rights-of-way, fence lines, pastures, rangeland, and other disturbed areas. It is a concern in the Cariboo, Central Kootenay, Columbia-Shuswap, East Kootenay, Okanagan-Silmilkameen, and Thompson-Nicola Regional Districts.
Commonly called “viper’s bugloss” because of its resemblance to a viper’s head, blueweed has bright blue blossoms found on the upper side of short, rough stems, and grows 30-80 centimetres in height. Hairy stems are painful to the touch, and hairs often have swollen dark bases that form noticeable flecks. Leaves become progressively smaller as they approach the top of the plant.
Although large infestations make a pretty photograph, this plant can spread quickly by producing healthy seeds that are easily distributed. A single plant can produce up to 2800 seeds that generally drop in the immediate vicinity of the parent plant, but can be distributed further by people and animals as the rough seeds stick to clothing, hair and feathers. Blueweed is occasionally found in nurseries as a gardening plant since it attracts butterflies and not deer or rabbits. Deer, as well as most grazing animals on pastures and rangelands, will avoid blueweed since it is unpalatable; therefore, a small infestation will spread quickly, reducing the area available for food and forage crops and increasing overgrazing on pastures. As a result, infestations are associated with economic losses and rising management costs on agricultural lands.
Help your community protect local resources by preventing and managing invasive plants. There are hundreds of beautiful native plants and non-invasive exotic alternatives available to replace this invasive in your backyard.