So many forms of chives
From the depths of the black lagoon arose – Dendranthema!

A dazzling roadside field of blue (and purple, pink, white…)

Echiumjww3989-600 Driving up and down the A1, Britain’s main north-south route, in recent weeks we’ve been amazed by a vast and brilliantly colourful field of flowers by the side of the road. It turned out to be a field of echium (viper’s bugloss) – near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, for the benefit of locals. 

Now until I looked it up I wasn’t sure why anyone would grow it on an agricultural scale but there it is, as far as the eye can see. The odd thing is, perhaps, not that it’s there at all – but that the flowers are a mixture of every shade of blue (including some lovely pale sky blue shades), every shade of purple, plus a few plants in rose pink and an even scattering of slightly taller white-flowered plants. EchiumcoloursJWW3962-600 You’d expect an agricultural crop to be much more uniform. That field will produce enough seed to keep every seed company in the world supplied till the end of time. But of course that’s not why it’s there.

It turns out that echium oil is a good source of gamma-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid which are used in skincare and suncare products. The stearidonic acid has been “proven to decrease rigosity” – so there. So echium oil is used as a moisturiser, antiwrinkle cream, it has skin smoothing effects, promotes cardiovascular functions, it’s an anti-inflammatory and is used for the  treatment of joints, eczema and pre-menstrual syndrome. Now you know. 

And it’s early stages in the agricultural production of echium oil, but you can bet plant breeders are working to improve the oil content. And when they do, I guarantee their flowers will all be the same shade. And they’ll still be an impressive addition to the colours of our countryside. 

You can find out more about echium as a crop from the Interactive European Network for Industrial Crops here and from the University of York here.

Comments

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jean Stowe

We have passed and admired this field twice - and not realized it was echium.
Shame on me - although confess we did not stop to investigate. It was beautiful, but driving past at about 70mph I had it as a flower crop, perhaps aconitum.

Thank you for the references too - will get properly ifnormed now.

Graham Rice

It was the scattering of white in it that me wondering, Jean. That's why we stopped. But what an incredible sight.

Mike Grant

We passed it too! I first assumed it was borage, which one sees occasionally in this area, but it didn't look quite right, so my next guess was phacelia. But there's no substitute for stopping and looking at it properly!

Graham Rice

Yes.. saw phacelia last summer (http://tinyurl.com/688nys) and borage a few years ago... Calendula is also, apparently, being grown on a field scale. That sounds quite a sight.

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