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Boraginaceae Botanicals

May 28, 2020

By Jon Peter, Curator & Plant Records Manager, Royal Botanical Gardens

The borage or forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae) includes approximately 2,000 species of woody and herbaceous plants and has a world-wide distribution. From the Geiger trees (Cordia sebestena) of tropical America, to the fantastic Echium of Macaronesia, this family is broad, diverse, and beautiful. In southern Ontario gardens, the most familiar genera in Boraginaceae are Mertensia (bluebells), Pulmonaria (lungworts), Myosotis (forget-me-nots), and Brunnera (bugloss).

You may also be familiar with garden heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) which provides dazzling fragrances to our annual summer containers, borage (Borago officinalis) which is a great companion plant in our vegetable gardens, and the eastern waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) which is a native woodland perennial. Finally, you may also notice viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) and hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) growing spontaneously along roadsides and disturbed areas.

Brunnera 'Diane's Gold'
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Diane’s Gold’ – RBG accession 20160058*A – The dainty five-part flowers of this Siberian Bugloss are beacons for pollinators when set against the golden foliage of this cultivar growing in a dark corner of Rock Garden.

Typically, this family can be characterized as having alternately arranged, narrow or lance-shaped leaves and may be covered in coarse hairs which can cause skin irritations. Five-lobed, tubular flowers range from white to purple, often with multiple colours present at one time. Normally, the ornamental varieties are grown as much for their foliage traits as for their floral display.

Pulmonaria 'Moonshine'
Pulmonaria ‘Moonshine’ – RBG accession 20150528*A – This beautiful Lungwort, which has nearly white leaves and white to light pink and purple flowers, is a standout companion plant in the Rock Garden.

At RBG, we grow approximately 937 individual plants in the Boraginaceae family, with 53 accessions occurring across all gardens, except for the Arboretum. You will find family members flowering in the spring and summer in the perennial plantings at Rock Garden and Laking Garden, in the Mediterranean Garden at Main Centre, and within the Oak Allée at Hendrie Park. Represented in our collection is 8 genera, 16 species and 43 taxa (unique types).

These highly ornamental plants are generally well-behaved, will grow in a variety of site conditions, will tolerate drought once established, and are relatively low maintenance. They pair well as companion plants for our vegetable gardens and are aesthetically pleasing as complimentary plants in our sun loving and shade tolerant perennial gardens.

Join me in experiencing the diversity and beauty of the Boraginaceae with some images of these classic perennials growing within our beloved Royal Botanical Gardens.

Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'
Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ – RBG accession 20180137*A – Even when not in flower, the abstract pattern on the leaves of this cultivar provides interest throughout the growing season and compliments the many perennials in this location in Hendrie Park’s Oak Allée.
Brunnera 'Mister Morse'
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mister Morse’ – RBG accession 20170067*A – The peaceful white flowers and delicate green veined leaves of ‘Mister Morse’ are a treasure to discover near the waterfall in Rock Garden.
Pulmonaria 'Shrimps on the Barbie'
Pulmonaria ‘Shrimps on the Barbie’ – RBG accession 20170105*A – A popular perennial in Rock Garden is this robust Lungwort cultivar with a great name. ‘Shrimps on the Barbie’ features plenty of shrimp pink flowers atop lightly spotted leaves.
Pulmonaria 'Trevi Fountain'
Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ – RBG accession 20160155*A – A gorgeous example of a blue flowered form. Notice at the top of the image, the pink buds opening to beautiful blue.
Pulmonaria 'Victorian Brooch' along staircase at Rock Garden
Pulmonaria ‘Victorian Brooch’ – RBG accession 20190265*A – This older Longwort cultivar was planted, along with many other perennials, in difficult soil with part shade exposure along the main staircase in Rock Garden.
Borago officinalis – Borage has been used medicinally, is fashionable in the culinary world, and commercially for seed oil extraction. The hairy leaves are said to taste mildly of cucumber, and the iridescent blue flowers are prized for their flavour when used in teas, salads, and when added to wine. Its attributes to pollinating insects make it a great companion plant in a vegetable garden and a welcome addition to perennial borders.