Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Originally from Europe and Asia, Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) is a biennial, or sometimes annual, herb that grows up to 120 cm high and has deep-blue flowers.
  • It is a weed of pastures and disturbed places in Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania.
  • It contains alkaloids that may be toxic to livestock.
  • Viper's Bugloss is very similar in appearance to the related weed Echium plantagineum (Paterson's Curse).
  • Control by herbicides, best practice management of pastures and copping and mechanical means.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) is a biennial (a plant that lives for two years), or sometimes annual (lives for one year), herb that grows up to 120 cm high. Seedlings of Viper's Bugloss have oval, hairy cotyledons (leaf seeds) that have short stalks (Dellow 2005). Leaves are covered with coarse spreading or appressed broad-based hairs and finer, shorter hairs. The first true leaves of the seedlings are oval then leaves forms a basal rosette, that are linear-oblanceolate in outline (linear, very narrow in relation to its length, with the sides mostly parallel) (oblanceolate;  (lance shaped, about 4 times as long as broad, broadest in the upper half, tapering to a narrow base), 50–150 mm long, and 8–15 mm  wide and are densely hairy with distinct pimple-like structures on the upper surface (Dellow 2005). The stem leaves are larger at the base and reduce in size the further up the stem. From the centre of the rosette leaves several upright stems, covered in coarse hairs (sometimes red at the base) and finer shorter hairs that arise from the base of the plant. These hairs can cause skin irritation if touched. The stem leaves linear-lanceolate,  (lanceolate (lance-shaped, about 4 times as long as broad, broadest in the lower half and tapering to the tip) with cuneate leaf bases (wedge-shaped leaf base with straight sides converging to base).

The trumpet-shaped blue flowers, are arranged in cymes (A main axis with many short branches with several short branches ending in  flower at the tip). The irregular shaped flowers are up to 12-15 mm long, are deep-blue, hairy outside, without hairs inside (except for some hairs around nectary scales)  lobes broad-ovate, 2–3 mm long. Each flower has five stamens, four of which protrude out of the flower tube whereas the fifth is included inside. Flowers are surrounded by sepals that are linear-lanceolate, 5–6 mm long, with a shape point, with bracts usually longer than sepals and sepals elongating in fruit to c. 9 mm.

The fruits are break up in to 4 a fewer segment called mericarps contain the seed. The mericap (seed) are rouge on the outside, pale brown, 2-3.5 mm long. Up to four seeds are produced from each flower (Piggin 1977; Wilson 1992; Jeanes 1999).

For further information and assistance with identification of Viper's Bugloss, contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

In Australia, Viper's Bugloss has been recorded as a weed of roadsides, pastures, crops and disturbed ground. It tolerates a wide range of soils but prefers those that are dry and light textured (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Are there similar species?

Paterson's Curse (Echium plantagineum) is a closely related species that may be confused with Viper's Bugloss but differs in many ways

  • It is usually a biennial, or sometimes a perennial plant, whereas Paterson’s curse is usually an annual.
  • Its rosette leaves are stalkless and spear-shaped.
  • All its leaves have a warty appearance and are narrower than those of Paterson’s curse.
  • Its leaf veins are not prominent – they are longitudinal and unbranched.
  • The flowers are usually more of a blue in colour and are on a pronounced flower spike. Flowers are smaller (about 1.5–2 cm long) and have four of the five stamens protruding well past the end of the flower.
  • The main flowering period begins later in the season than that for Paterson’s curse and extends over a longer period.
  • The stems are more erect and the stout taproot is usually much longer.

Italian Bugloss (Echium italicum) resembles Viper's Bugloss but can be distinguished easily when it is in flower because the flowers are pale yellow or cream.

Lucerne (Medicago sativa) superficially resembles Viper's Bugloss when it is in flower. It is a similar sized plant with purple flowers, although the stems and leaves of Lucerne are not hairy (Piggin 1977; Wilson 1992; Jeanes 1999).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare)  is a widespread weed of pasture, crops and other disturbed sites and can be poisonous to livestock (DPI NSW 2019), and can out-compete pasture and grassland vegetation. Could invade and impact similar habitats as the invasive Echium plantageneum (Patersons Curse, Salvation Jane). In New South Wales it is naturalised in disturbed places and pastoral land where it is declared as an Echium species.

Agriculture: Weed of pasture, crops, disturbed areas, fallows, lucerne, roadsides and disturbed areas and potentially competitive in pasture and crops. In New South Wales it is naturalised in disturbed places and pastoral land where it is declared as an Echium species. Viper's Bugloss is less palatable to stock than Paterson's Curse and is less competitive with desirable pasture species. It also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and is potentially toxic to livestock and can be poisonous (DPI NSW 2019; DPIWE 2002). The plant is also covered in hairs which can cause irritation to the skin when touched (Piggin 1997).

Native ecosystems: In Victoria, Viper's Bugloss invades lowland grassland, grassy woodland and dry sclerophyll forest (Carr et al. 1992).

Urban areas: As a weed of disturbed sites, it invades roadsides, waterways, gardens and parks, disturbed sites and waste areas in the temperate regions of Australia (Queensland Government 2016).

How does it spread?

The sole means of reproduction of Viper's Bugloss is via the production of seed. Seeds of Viper's Bugloss spread in the same manner as other similar weedy members of the Boraginaceae family such as Paterson's Curse (Echium plantagineum) and Yellow Burr Weeds (Amsinckia species). The seed of these species spreads by water, especially where plants grow in riparian habitats and on steep terrain where erosion and run-off occurs. Contaminated soil, fodder, vehicles and cultivation equipment are also significant vectors for seed transport to new sites. Seeds may also be readily dispersed along roadsides during roadside maintenance works. Dispersal via contaminated agricultural produce is also a potential means of spread (Baker 2008 pers. comm.).

What is its history in Australia?

Viper's Bugloss was intentionally introduced into Australia in the early 1800s as a garden plant. It was listed in various garden catalogues from 1828 (Piggin 1977). Herbarium records indicate that Viper's Bugloss was first collected in Australia in 1881 from North Esk, Tasmania. It was collected soon afterwards from near Myrtleford, Victoria, in 1883, from Georgetown, South Australia, in 1893 and from New South Wales in 1909 (Piggin 1977).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) can be controlled by herbicides, cultivation and management and maintaining healthy pastures and cropping practices. Viper's Bugloss often establishes after overgrazing, cultivation or other disturbance and then prevents other more desirable species establishing. The management techniques to control Paterson's curse, can be applied to control viper's bugloss, including the biocontrol options. 

Chemical control:  Chemical control of Viper's Bugloss in cropping and non-cropping situations can also be successful (DPIWE 2002). Cultivation and herbicides provide good control in cropping situations. Spray grazing, early in the season gives very economical reductions in broad acre pasture infestations  Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Non-chemical control: Physical control: Isolated plants can be manually removed and burnt if flowering or seeding.

Mechanical control: Mowing can reduce seed set but usually requires an early mow at the bud stage and a late mow to control regrowth.

Competition and management: The key to preventing seedling establishment is to aim for full ground cover by using competitive crops or pastures. Cultivation can be used to control Viper's Bugloss, with multiple cultivations are usually required to control late germinating seeds. Cultivation followed by sowing of competitive crop species can be a useful control technique. Grazing with sheep rather than cattle to prevent seed set can help reduce seed set.

Biological Control: Bio control agents introduced to control Paterson's Curse will probably also affect Viper's Bugloss. The Heliotrope moth (Utetheisa pulchelloides) is a white spotted moth and often seen in Heliotrope and Echium infestations. The caterpillars have sparse grey hairs, and are black with orange spots and broken cream lines along the body.


Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Viper's Bugloss flowers in spring and summer in both the first and second season of growth. It may even persist for several years as a short lived perennial, flowering annually (DPIWE 2002).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

In Australia, Viper's Bugloss occurs on the Central and Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory and extends into north-eastern Victoria. Isolated occurrences occur elsewhere in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania (Auld & Medd 1987, Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001, Navie 2004).

In Tasmania, it is an uncommon weed with a widespread distribution, recorded from the East Coast, Midlands and North West floristic regions (Baker 2008 pers. comm.).

In South Australia, it has been recorded from the South Eastern and Southern Lofty regions, but all known collection are more than 30 years old (eFlora 2021), with all recent collections made from Tasmania, and New South Wales (AVH 2021).

Where does it originate?

Viper's Bugloss is native throughout Europe and temperate Asia and is widely naturalised in other temperate regions (GRIN 2008).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Echium vulgare

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Echium violaceum L. (misapplied by Maiden, J.H. & Cambage, R.H. 1909, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. 43: 123-138.; Peacock, R.W. 1904, Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales. 15: 625-628.)

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Common Viper's Bugloss

Blackberry – a community-driven approach in Victoria

Blackberry the weed (Rubus fruticosus aggregate) was first introduced to Australia by European settlers in the mid-1800s as a fruit. It was recognised as a weed by mid-1880s. Blackberry is a serious issue across Australia. It is estimated that blackberry infests approximately 8.8 million hectares of land at an estimated cost of $103 million in annual control and production losses.

Read Case Study