At its most luxuriant in mid to late spring is Echium candicans. Hailing from Madeira and the Canary Islands, this magnificent plant has spread into wildlands and untended landscapes in some coastal California areas and is sometimes mistaken for a native.
Big, bold, and fast-growing, this ultimately massive shrub can overwhelm a small urban backyard at maturity, but if you’ve got the space and appreciate vegetative drama, this is a plant worth considering.
E. candicans grows quickly to six or eight feet tall and wide, and it seeds about in astonishing abundance. Expect to pull many tiny seedlings every year if you don’t cut off the flower stalks before seeds mature. Don’t plant it anywhere near natural open space. Even if you are able to contain this plant, gardeners that come after you may not know how or be willing to do it.
Seedlings are easy to pull, but you have to keep after them. Young plants can appear thirty feet from the parent plant. That’s a good thing if you like surprises, not so good if you don’t.
E. candicans requires no supplemental water near the coast, though leaves may droop piteously in hot inland summers. The tall spikes of iridescent clear blue to violet-blue flowers will knock your socks off in spring and early summer. The leaves are soft, gray-green, and lightly hairy. They are large and lush on young plants, smaller on plants that have passed their prime.
Echium will not accept hard pruning, but the perfectly rounded shape of young plants can be maintained by annual light tip pruning. If you let them go too long without tip pruning plants will become lanky and wildly irregular in age.
Echium is attractive to bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. It prefers full sun and good drainage and blends nicely with California natives.
E. candicans is said to be short-lived (six to eight years), but I have marvelous old woody specimens that planted themselves more than twice that long ago.
The leaves and flowers of older plants are not as impressive as those of their offspring, but the gnarled, intricately twisted branches are so decorative that I leave them as testament to the resilience and beauty of old plants that have a great story to tell.
I’m growing the variegated form, ‘Star of Madeira’, in my garden for the first time but I’ve seen for myself how resilient these plants can be. There’s an empty lot near my home that’s covered with “Pride of Madeira’ doing just fine with no attention and no water other than the piddly amount of rain we’ve received thus far this year.
Could you please tell how to cut the flowers of my echium, they are full and beautiful but I can see that they are kind of bending a little bit,
A appreciate your attention.
Does this plant (echium) grow under oak trees?
I’m fairly sure echium would grow under oak trees, but I would keep it well away from the trunk and not water it at all in summer. Echium doesn’t need water to survive, but it is tempting to give it a little when the big leaves droop pitifully in the heat.
Hey, great information thanks. Is there anything I can do to improve a plant that has gotten very leggy?
I have found it is best to pull a leggy one out & plant a new one. You can’t cut them back too hard as they won’t reshoot from old wood. They grow so quickly that you will have another impressive plant within a year.
Thanks – Great advice
Any advice on transplanting seedlings? obviously try to get the entire root, but what else is helpful to make them survive?
I’m getting ready to try yet again to move a couple of juvenile echiums. I have never been successful in moving these plants, though I’ve only tried to move somewhat larger ones (larger than seedlings). As you know, echium is terribly invasive and we probably shouldn’t be growing them at all, but I love the flowers and they are SO tolerant of zero summer water. Plus the bees are crazy about them.
I think the smaller the better for moving these plants. Since they come up everywhere, my strategy to date has been to pull up all but the ones that land in the exact place I want them to be. They are taprooted, so if you try to move them it’s likely best to dig a deep hole around them and try to save the entire taproot.
Let me know if you succeed. I’ll let you know if I do.
PS: Since they grow so fast and so readily from seed, why not just collect a few seeds and plant them where you want them to be.