GREEN ALKANET (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

SW France, Iberian Peninsula

alkanet-close-upBumblebee on Alkanet

Green Alkanet, a wildflower native to Western Europe, has been in this country since at least 1700. Its flowers are of an intense BLUE and may appear as early as March, with the plant still in bloom well into summer. It likes sunshine and has no problems with London clay.

The young plant is soft, fuzzy and easily handled. As it grows, its leaves & stems become covered with bristles that are painful to the touch. Each leaf becomes a large, prickly green paddle, well protected against being eaten by wildlife. Growing to one metre tall, it may need staking.

Green Alkanet is self-seeding. If you have marked out a place for it, do not expect it to carry on in a well-behaved manner once planted. Depending on your soil (ours is clay), you may be faced with a rampant wildflower for which some digging is required. Any morsel of root left in the ground will become another Green Alkanet.

Best Bumblebee in motion 24 May 2015Alkanet

Alkanet sheltering Plume Moth









Bees Favourite.

Bees are irresistably drawn to this wildflower. They will seek out the last blooms on stems that have fallen to the ground. Even in years when bee numbers were down, some always found their way to this garden to visit the Green Alkanet. Seeing so many bee visitors, garden guests are likely to ask ‘What is that blue flower?’

Honeybee on Alkanet clarified


  ‘Green Alkanet was imported into Britain hundreds of years ago for use as a dye. It was particularly cultivated by monasteries because the roots of the plant produce a rich red that is ideal for ecclesiastical cloth. Its religious connections may go back as far as ancient Egypt where priestesses are said to have used it as a hair dye.’

A bad witch’s blog

Humans working near the plant should wear gloves. When space is at a premium, as here in Highbury, the largest, lowest leaves can be removed; aim to leave every last blue flower for the bees, then cut the plant down at the base.

Other names: Bird’s Eye,  Evergreen Bugloss, Pheasant’s Eye.


Bumblebee with rusty cloak on Alkanet

Alkanet, Starlings on birdbath

Alkanet flwrs and foliage

As a conservation volunteer, you learn that ordinary gardening gloves are inadequate for dealing with some wildflowers. At the Ecology Centre we are provided with gauntlets – tough, rugged gloves reaching almost to the elbow – for tasks involving prickly plants.

My top four wildflowers, rated for thorns, prickles and pain, are

1. Bramble

2. Dog Rose

3. Teasel

4. Green Alkanet

Every one is worth growing for bees, if you have the space and can deal with the prickles.