Borago officinalis - Borage

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: insertae sedis - Family: Boraginaceae

Borago officinalis, Borage

Why such a lovely wildflower should hang its head in shame is a mystery, but the pendent flowers of Borage are best viewed from a lying-down position.

Identification

Up to 60cm tall, this bristly branching annual herb has pointed oval leaves with toothed wavy margins. The bright blue flowers of Borage, each with five pointed recurved petals and an extended column of purple-black-tipped anthers, range from 2 to 12.5m across and grow in loose clusters (cymes).

Borago officinalis, Borage, Algarve region of Portugal

Distribution

This gorgeous plant, which is established on a few roadsides and in waste ground in southern Britain, is cultivated as a culinary herb in summertime. Borage is common throughout the Mediterranean region of southern Europe, including the Algarve in Portugal where, as well as reproducing from seed annually, it is also capable of over-wintering.

Borago officinalis, Borage, on a disturbed roadside verge

Habitat

Borago officinalis is a wildflower of fallow cultivated land, disturbed roadsides and waste ground. It thrives in sunny locations and copes surprisingly well during dry periods.

Blooming Times

Borage blooms from March to June within its native Mediterranean range but throughout the summer months in Britain and Ireland.

Uses

Not surprisingly, Borage has been grown mainly as an ornamental plant, although its leaves are used to flavour drinks - notably Pimms. These days the plant is also grown in cultivation for its oil-rich seeds.

Etymology

The origin of the ancient genus name Borago seems to be lost in the mists of time, but the specific epithet officinalis indicates that this plant was considered to have medicinal properties.

Similar Species

Borage is one of many members of this family to occur widely throughout the Mediterranean region. Another common species with even deeper blue flowers is Anchusa azurea (Large Blue Alkanet).

The Borage plants shown on this page were photographed in southern Portugal during early March.


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