Tenerife herbs: Echium the Canarian Viper's Bugloss or Tajinaste

The Viper's Bugloss is a pretty wild flower

There are many species of Viper's Bugloss (Echium) found growing wild and in cultivation in Tenerife and the Canary Islands. Many of them have tall and colourful flowering spikes and are very pretty wild flowers.

Some of the endemic species are very rare and only found in a few locations. One species is a common and invasive weed. Some have white flowers, some have blue or purple and one has a red flowering spike. 

Besides being attractive plants the Viper's Bugloss species are also medicinal herbs.

Red Viper's Bugloss

Red Viper's Bugloss or Tajinaste Rojo
Red Viper's Bugloss or Tajinaste Rojo

Canarian Viper's Bugloss species described

The most spectacular of the Tenerife varieties of Viper's Bugloss is the Red Viper's Bugloss (E. wildpretii) , or "Tajinaste Rojo", as it is known in Spanish. It is restricted to some parts high up on Mt Teide and also found in the village of Vilaflor and is one of the rare endemic species.

This species flowers in late spring and early summer and its flowering spikes can reach as much as 6 foot in height though usually shorter. They look very strange and eye-catching as they poke their way skywards over the volcanic slopes of Mt Teide's highlands. Each inflorescence has thousands of flowers and pollinating insects like bees love to gather the nectar from them.

The white flowered E. simplex, or "Arrebol" as it is called in Spanish,is similar in size to the Red Viper's Bugloss and has a similar growth formation but grows on the sea cliffs of the extreme north of Tenerife. It is very restricted in its distribution in the wild now though and is far more often seen in flower borders and gardens.

E. virescens is a fairly common species found in mountainous and forested parts of the north of the island where it forms large bushes that can reach 2 metres in height. It has blueish or pink flower spikes.

E. giganteum is, as its name suggests, a very large species of Viper's Bugloss. It forms bushes and grows in the north of the island in coastal regions. It bears white flower spikes.

E. plantagineum is a small plant with bright purple flowers that make it a very pretty plant. However, this species, which is also found in other areas of the Mediterranean and in Europe, is an invasive annual weed and rapidly colonises untended farmland that has been ploughed over.

There are many more species with some that are only found on the Canary Islands they are named after such as the species E. hierrense from El Hierro and E. lanzerottense from Lanzarote.

Tower of Jewels - Echium wildpretii

White Viper's Bugloss

White Viper's Bugloss - Tajinaste blanco (Echium simplex)
White Viper's Bugloss - Tajinaste blanco (Echium simplex)

Medicinal properties of Viper's Bugloss

The leaves of species of Viper's Bugloss have traditionally been made into infusions to treat fevers, coughs and headaches, and as poultices as a remedy for pain in the joints. The plants also have astringent and diuretic properties.

The very plentiful seeds of the Viper's Bugloss have been found to contain a high proportion of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). This substance has become very popular in alternative health circles and is used to rejuvenate the skin and also in weight loss supplements. GLA is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and is believed to help protect and fight against cancer.

The massive production of seeds, amounting to many thousands from a single spike in the larger species, could mean that these spectacular herbs may end up being cultivated on a mass scale as a source of GLA.

The blue-flowered Viper's Bugloss (E. vulgare) that grows in sand dunes and waste places in the UK, Europe and elsewhere, was once believed to be an antidote for snake-bite and poisonings but this is now known not to be the case.

Echium photo

Echium plantagineum
Echium plantagineum

Viper's Bugloss as garden flowers

Many species of Viper's Bugloss are sold in the seed trade because they are popular garden flowers. They are often known as "Tower of Jewels" when sold to gardeners.

The Red Viper's Bugloss and also a very tall species, known to botanists as E. pininana, that comes from La Palma, where it is an endangered species in the wild, are often called this and are grown in gardens and parks in other parts of the world. 

E. pininana can reach as much as three metres in height and is a very spectacular plant. There was a news story in the South Wales Echo the other year about a woman who had grown this in her Cardiff garden and the plant had become enormous.

The white-flowered E.simplex, which again is an incredibly rare plant in the wild is often seen in parks, gardens and public flower and shrub borders around the north of Tenerife.

The red-flowered E. wildpretii is also grown this way and gets sold as packets of seed around the island. This species often ends up on postcards in photos in guidebooks and in paintings of Tenerife too. This is due to its weird and wonderful flowering spikes as well as the exotic location it grows wild in up on Mt Teide's barren and rocky landscapes.

Copyright © 2011 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments 2 comments

Sissel 4 years ago

I have experienced tajinaste or tower of jewels in its natural surroundings, in the Teide hiking area in May/June...just wonderful...


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Tenerife Islander 4 years ago from Tenerife Author

Thank you for commenting and I am very glad you have seen these amazing plants!

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