The bee flower was my name for this plant that I adored when I was growing up – the pink and purple flower combination caught my fancy as did the way it always seemd to be covered in bees and bumble bees. And, as you can see from the photo, butterflies love it too.
It’s actually called the Pride of Madeira, a grand name, and is a member of the huge echium family (yep, just like those little milkweeds we’re forever pulling out round here), Echium candicans (or Echium fastuosum).
My plants are descended from some seedlings I dug out from around my mother’s plants (including from the driveway gravel) – their lifecycle is a little bit different in that the first year from seed they grow only their leaves, flowering in the second year. They flower for two years, then the plants die off, having set seed and it all begins again. The leaves are silvery-grey and attractive in their own right.
This plant is great for anywhere hot and dry, including coastal gardens, but you may need to watch that they don’t do a little too well (I weed out any excess seedlings). They are drought-tolerant, cold-hardy plants that don’t mind poor soil and part shade. The Vege Grower reckons ours grow to about 2m with the flowers on.
We have also had the very tall Echium pininana courtesy of a friend – a tall, single flower that soars off a tall, single stem and gets to some 3m.
Like most biennial and annual echiums I’ve come across they have hairy leaves and prickly stems so if you’re pulling out a spent plant it’s advisable to wear gloves.
Te Puna Quarry Park’s butterfly garden has the purpley-flowered plant and also one with a striking sky-blue flower.
As the common name suggests, the plants are native to the island of Madeira, a Portuguese archipeligo in the Atlantic Ocean, some 400km northeast of the Canary Islands.