In Glasshouse 6 in the Victorian Working Garden at Fota, the Echium candicans, pride of Madeira is thriving. Standing beside it is like listening to an orchestra of strings, as the bees visit this bee-friendly plant all day long.
Echium candicans is smaller and has more compact panicles than its giant cousin, Echium pininana, giant viper’s bugloss. But it can still reach 2 metres, half the 4 metres of the E. pininana. It loves sun and can tolerate poor, dry soil and is low maintenance. It is fast growing and reseeds freely. (Some would say too freely).
The Latin name candicans means “shining white”, which is the colour of one of the species.
Why do bees like this plant so much? Obviously there is a profusion of flowers, spiraling from top to bottom. So it provides an abundant buffet. But it also raises the question of why bees seem to like the colours blue and purple so much. Scientists suggest that bees cannot see red but can see blue and green and that plant,s which ancient fossils show were generally lacking in pigment, evolved to produce stronger pigmentation to attract pollinators. But of course bees, whose eyesight only allows them to see close-up, mainly use scent to find flowers. Surveys show that blue is also the favourite colour of humans. This, combined with the tall sculptural form of the echium make these plants attractive to us and a striking and dramatic addition to our gardens.
Besides these blue beauties, other plants are flowering happily in the Victorian Working Garden. Here is a selection.
All photographs copyright Fotaframeyardblog.com