Native to Italy, Anchusa italica is a wonderfully statuesque plant with dense foliage and lance shaped mid green leaves. With spikes of rich gentian blue, giant forget-me-not type flowers, 'Dropmore' is a 1905 selection that is still available today. Growing to around 90cm (36in) tall, it is best situated in the middle of the border.
Blooming in late spring, the vibrant, gentian blue flowers appear on upright stems throughout the summer creating a dazzling display. ‘Dropmore’ makes a great companion to rich plums and purple tones and will thrive in a sunny border.
Place in full sun and in a well-drained soil, the latter stipulation is very important. It is a Mediterranean native, so treat it as you would an herb such as lavender. It needs to be planted in ground that drains sharply, else it will meet an untimely demise.
This hardy perennial has a reputation for being short lived, but many gardeners treat it as a biennial. Seeds can be sown early in the year for blooms later in the year, or sown in late summer for flowers the following summer. Although short lived the plant can self-seed where happy, otherwise seeds can be collected for continuous plants.
The plants are suited as bee pasture, they are an excellent choice for attracting bees and butterflies to your garden and make wonderful additions to the wildlife garden. They are very hardy and tolerate temperatures down to minus 7°C (20°F), they are considered drought-tolerant, they make an ideal choice for a low-water garden.
Their edible petals look wonderful sprinkled into salads or frozen into ice cubes and then plonked into summer drinks. The flowers make a lovely cut flower and are also suitable for drying, they make colourful additions to pot-pourri.
Anchusa is easy to propagate from seed, which can be sown almost any time of the year. For a spring display, sow the seeds late summer and for a summer display sow the seeds in winter.
Germination is usually very good and within a week or two. The plants prefer a position with well-drained soil in full sun. Ideally they should be grown with a spacing of around 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12in), though they look quite attractive when grown in clumps.
The seeds can be sown early indoors, or can be sown directly where they are to grow. They can also be sown in an outdoor seed bed and then transplanting the plants to their final positions during early autumn. These plants will grow larger and flower earlier than those sown in spring.
Sow the seeds in a seed tray filled with well-drained soil and cover them with a thin layer of sand. Place the tray in the shade and water well. Keep the soil moist; watering once a day should be enough.
The seedlings can be potted up as soon as they are big enough to handle and grown on before planting in the garden. Anchusa plants have a long tap root and a remarkable root system, if you sow indoors do not leave pricking out and transplanting for too long otherwise the plant will suffer and may never recover.
Sow direct into a weed free soil that is low in fertility. Prepare the area where they are to grow. Removing any weeds or stones and rake to a fine tilth. The root system has surprisingly long tap roots and the plant is happiest when it can get these down into the soil.
Sow thinly, 6mm (¼in) deep in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Sow the seed sparingly or they will choke out other seedlings. Water ground regularly until the seedlings are established, especially in dry periods. Seeds can be slow to germinate, the optimum temperature is 60 to 65°F (15 to 18°C). An overnight drop in temperature often helps germination.
If sowing more than one plant in the same bed, consider marking the sowing areas with a ring of sand and a label. The seedlings will appear in rows approx 6 to 8 weeks after planting and can be easily told from nearby weed seedlings. Prick out superfluous seedlings rigorously, so that the plants are at least 30cm (12in) apart. They will then have enough space to spread satisfactorily.
This is a relatively low maintenance perennial, cutting back hard, to a couple of inches in midsummer after the plant has finished flowering will cause fresh foliage and later blooms. The plant should be cut right back in late autumn in preparation for winter.
Divide in spring after second year to prolong the life of the clump. In cool wet areas the plant tends not to self-seed, but in well-drained soil the plant should self-seed nicely so watch for new seedlings around parent plant and transplant to other parts of the garden.
All parts of the plant are softly hairy, as with Borage, with whom this plant is a family member. The seeds are also hairy and have been known to stick to one's clothes.
These are not plants to caress, in fact the less you handle them the better, the hairs on the stem may prove irritating to the skin be sure to wear gloves whenever handling the plants. The stems are hollow so they do not stand well in water and are never used as a cut flower, so there should be no need to handle them.
When cutting back in autumn be very careful of contact with the rough leaves, wear gloves as they can cause an irritating rash, especially on softer skin.
Groundcover, Rock/Alpine Gardens, Border Edging, Containers, Mass Planting, Bees and Honey making. Butterfly gardens, Drought Tolerant.
The seeds of Anchusa develop inside little green cups. Inside each cup three seeds or little nuts turn hard and black as they ripen, usually about a month after flowering. Every plant produces hundreds of seeds. Let the seeds ripen, cut off the seed heads and place in a paper bag. Hang the paper bag somewhere dry and out of direct sunlight. After a couple of weeks remove the dry chaff and store the seeds somewhere cool and dry ready for next year.
Anchusa flowers are wonderfully versatile, their prettiness lends them to cupcakes and other sweet dishes, but they also complement many savoury courses such as scallops. One of our favourite uses for them is in cocktails, either frozen in ice cubes or simply floated on top, where their extraordinary colour will shine.
The roots of Anchusa (just like those of Alkanna and Lithospermum) contain anchusin (or alkanet-red), a red-brown resinoid colouring matter. It is insoluble in water, but soluble in alcohol, chloroform and ether.
The root imparts a fine deep-red colour to all unctuous substances. Anchusa was used for colouring oils, plasters, lip-salve, confections, etc and also in compositions for rubbing and giving colour to mahogany furniture. It was used to improve the appearance of low quality wines and ports, and to give an aged appearance to wine corks.
In the past, the plant was cultivated in Britain but most of the alkanet of commerce was imported from the Levant or from southern France. However, the root is mainly used as a dying agent now, and is not recommended for internal use.
Anchusa italica is believed to be originated from the Mediterranean areas from Portugal and east to the Caucasus. It grows throughout whole Europe, especially the southern and central parts (Sicily, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Romania, France Portugal Spain, Ukraine, and Russia). It is also found in Western Asia (Iraq, Pakistan, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey), Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Soviet Middle Asia: Kazakhistan), and Tropical Asia (Pakistan).
The Anchusa genus contains around 40 species. They are diverse plants; they may be annual, biennial or perennial and can be either deciduous or evergreen. Some plants form mat like coverage, yet others grow upright. Although the genus seems to be large ranging they all share many common features: The plants carry numerous symmetrical five petaled flowers that are usually an intense sapphire blue colour and often tubular in nature (the Egyptian Alkanet is an exception having pale yellow flowers).
Some of the closely related species to Anchusa include Borage (Borago), Siberian bugloss (Brunnera), Forget me not (Myosotis) and Alkanet (Pentaglottis).
These genera of plants are members of the Boraginaceae family; this large family consists of around 2,000 species and is commonly referred to as the forget-me-not or Borage family.
Many of the species of Anchusa are commonly grown in gardens. There are also a number of cultivars available.
As a consequence of the plants variations in height the species plants can have many uses, smaller plants are often used in gaps between paving, whilst the larger species can be used towards the back of a border.
Some of the species that are commonly grown in gardens include:
Anchusa arvensis - Annual Bugloss
Anchusa officinalis - Common Bugloss, True Alkanet
Anchusa capensis - Summer Forget-Me-Not
Anchusa italica, aka Anchusa azurea - Italian Bugloss
Anchusa aegyptiaca - Egyptian Alkanet
Anchusa barrelieri - False Alkanet, Barrelier's Bugloss
Anchusa undulata - Undulate Alkanet
Anchusa is from the Latin name anchusa which was used for the common bugloss (Anchusa officinalis). It is derived from the Greek word meaning 'face make-up paint' from the red dye extracted from the roots. It was used as a natural dye, a cosmetic or as an emollient to soothe and soften the skin.
The species name italica is Latin and means 'of Italian origin' or 'related to Italy'.
Anchusa italica has the synonym of Anchusa azurea, which simply means the colour blue.
The variety 'Dropmore' is a 1905 selection that is still available today. It was named after the Dropmore estate in Buckinghamshire, it was the home of William Grenville, British Prime minister from 1806 to 1807. The gardens, at one time celebrated for its splendour, included formal flower beds, Italian garden, woodlands, lawns, vistas, roads, bridges and gates. It is the origin of several plant names: Anchusa azurea 'Dropmore', also Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet', Nepeta 'Dropmore' Kniphofia 'Dropmore Apricot' and Lythrum virgatum 'Dropmore Purple'.
Common names include Large Blue Alkanet, Italian Bugloss, Garden Anchusa
The name bugloss is of Greek origin, from the word bouglōssos signifying an ox's tongue, (bous meaning ‘ox’ and glōssa meaning ‘tongue’) and alluding to the roughness and shape of the plant's leaves.
Linnaeus, who gave the plant its modern scientific name, intentionally deviated from the former understanding.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 500mg Average Seed Count 20 seeds Seed Form Natural. Seeds per gram 40 seeds / gram Family Boraginaceae Genus Anchusa Species italica Cultivar Dropmore Synonym Anchusa azurea Common Name Aka Anchusa azurea or Italian Bugloss Other Language Names IR: Boglas Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus 7°C (20°F), It can also be grown as a biennial. Flowers Rich gentian blue Natural Flower Time June to August Height 90cm (36in) Position Full sun preferred but will grow in shade. Soil Thrives on dryish mineral soil. Time to Sow Late winter/late spring and late summer/autumn. Germination Optimum germination temperature: 60 to 65°F (15 to 18°C). Uses bee plant,