How to Grow Anchusa Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Bugloss, Summer forget-me-not, and Alkanet

The common names for the hardy annual, biennial or perennial plant Anchusa include Summer forget-me-not, Alkanet, Bugloss, Italian Bugloss, Dyer's Bugloss and Cape forget me not.

The name Bugloss is Latin for Ox en Tongue and refers to the fact that the leaves are covered in small bristly hairs.

Latin names include Anchusa officinalis, Anchusa azurea, Anchusa capensis and Anchusa arvensis.

They typically flower from the middle of summer until the end of summer.

Anchusa capensis
Anchusa capensis photograph by Eric in SF.

Description of Anchusa species

Anchusa are diverse plants; they may be either deciduous or evergreen. Some plants form mat like coverage, yet others grow upright.

Anchusa plants have very intense flowers of deep blue; they are often tubular in nature, (the Egyptian Alkanet is an exception having pale yellow flowers).

As a consequence of the plants variations in height they can have many uses in the garden, smaller plants are often used in gaps between crazy paving, whilst the bigger species can be used towards the back of a border.

Bugloss photo
G.A. Cooper @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database Smithsonian Institution, Department of Systematic Biology-Botany.

Information on Anchusa and commonly grown garden species

The Anchusa genus contains around 40 species. The plants are native to Europe, Africa and Asia; they also thrive on other continents where they have been introduced.

This genera of plants are a member of the Boraginaceae family; this large family consists of around 2000 species and is commonly referred to as the forget-me-not or Borage family. Therefore some of the closely related species to Anchusa include Borage (Borago), Siberian bugloss (Brunnera), Forget me not (Myosotis) and Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis).

Although the genus seems to be large-ranging, especially with regards to plant life cycles, all members share common features:

Anchusa are herbaceous plants that have a covering of bristly hairs. The foliage consists of single leaves (simple) that may be undulated. Plants carry numerous symmetrical five petaled flowers that are usually a deep sapphire blue color.

Some of the species of Anchusa that are commonly grown in gardens include.

(Common) Bugloss, (True) Alkanet, Corn Bugloss (Anchusa officinalis)
Summer Forget-Me-Not (Anchusa capensis)
Annual Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis)
Egyptian Alkanet (Anchusa aegyptiaca)
False Alkanet, Barrelier's Bugloss (Anchusa barrelieri)
Italian Bugloss (Anchusa azurea)
Undulate Alkanet (Anchusa undulata)

Anchusa azurea
Anchusa azurea (Italian Bugloss) by Nicolas Gent.

Anchusa Growing and Care Guide

Common Names: Bugloss, Summer forget-me-not, Alkanet, Italian Bugloss, Dyer's Bugloss, Cape forget-me-not.
Life Cycle: Hardy annual. Hardy biennial. Hardy perennial.
Height: 12 to 40 inches (30 to 100 cm).
Native: Europe, Western Asia, Africa.

Growing Region: Zones 3 to 10.
Flowers: End of spring, summer and autumn.
Flower Details: Sapphire Blue. Small. Symmetrical. Tubular. Often clustered.
Foliage: Undulate. Simple. Hairy.

Sow Outside: Cover seed. Annuals: before the last frost. Perennials: autumn. Spacing 10 to 30 inches (25 to 75 cm).
Sow Inside: Germination time: one week to one month. Seven or eight weeks in advance. Transplant outdoors following the last frost.

Requirements: Full sunlight or light shade. Good drainage. Soil pH 5.5 to 7. Moist soil. Rich soil. Regular light watering. Provide support. Deadhead. Perennials should be cut back to the ground in autumn. Propagate: divide root or stem rooting.
Family: Boraginaceae.
Miscellaneous: May cause skin irritations.

How to Grow Bugloss, Alkanet and Other Anchusa species

It is best to plant Anchusa just below the soil surface, with a spacing of 25 to 30 cm for smaller species and 45 to 75 cm apart for larger species.

Annual varieties should be planted in the early spring whereas perennials should be planted in after the last frost of spring.

Annual Anchusa prefer brightly sunlit conditions whilst perennials can grow in partly shady to full sunlit conditions.

The soil should be moist and ideally have a pH between 6 and 7.

Anchusa requires between one and four weeks to germinate. When starting plants off from seed indoors, the seeds should be planted six to eight weeks in advance of when they are due to be put outside; ideally after the last frost of spring.

How to Care for Anchusa

Easy to look after, but wear gloves when handling to prevent hairs penetrating the skin. Dead head flowers to encourage further blooming. Propagate by stem rooting.

Specific Information on Anchusa plants

Cape / Summer Forget-Me-Not (Anchusa capensis)

Summer forget me not's are annuals that reach an height of 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45cm). Although they are a little weed-like in appearance the plants carry bright blue flowers that can help to liven up a garden in spring and the early months of summer.

Ideally they should be grown in full sunlight with a spacing of around 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm), though they look quite attractive when grown in clumps. Sow the seeds just below the surface prior to the last expected frost in your area.

As both the seeds and the hairs on the stem may prove irritating to the skin be sure to wear gloves whenever handling Anchusa capensis. The plant can spread very easily, be sure to deadhead flowers, both to encourage further blooming and to prevent seed spread; be aware that the seeds are known to stick to one's clothes.

Italian Bugloss (Anchusa azurea)

These perennials reach an height of 18 to 30 inches (45 to 90cm) and make ideal plants for alpine and rock gardens.

They should be planted about 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 cm) apart in a sunny part of the garden that as a soil of pH 5.5 to 7. They bloom from the middle of Summer through to Autumn with blue flowers. As with other Anchusa species wear gloves when handling the plants as they can irritate the skin. Beware that these plants grow large tap roots and can be difficult to remove from the garden.

(Common) Bugloss, (True) Alkanet, Corn Bugloss (Anchusa officinalis)

These plants can be biennial or perennial in nature and reach a height of between 12 and 36 inches (30 to 90cm). Anchusa officinalis plants can be be grown in full sunlight or partially shaded condition.

They bloom from late spring through to Autumn with flowers of blue through to purple.

These plants are listed as a noxious weed in the states of Washington and Oregon. This plant can cause skin irritations be sure to wear gloves when working with it.