Pride of Madeira

Echium candicans

Pride of Madeira, Echium candicans, is native only to the island of Madeira which lies in the Atlantic, southwest of Portugal. However, its billowing rosettes of soft green leaves and dramatic spikes of blue-purple flowers, together with its drought tolerance have made it a landscaping favorite worldwide, including coastal California. Unfortunately, it occasionally escapes gardens and moves into wildlands where it eliminates the native plants that support our native birds and mammals. In the Reserve, a wall of pride of Madeira is slowly advancing down a slope above the Rios trail, overpowering the invincible lemonade berry.

Ironically, the native population on Madeira is threatened by the same types of human activities that threaten the native plants in California. In 2008 a large wildfire swept through the central population of pride of Madeira and a population survey has not been conducted since; as of 2013, the effect of the fire, indeed the survival of the main population was unknown.

Other Common Names:

Description 2,4,199,206,214

Pride of Madeira is an evergreen shrub that grows to 6 feet (2 m) tall and 10 feet (3 m) wide, with many coarse branches. A plant begins as a rosette of leaves; as it matures it adds stiff ascending branches, each ending with a rounded rosette. The lower stems are woody and leafless, with light gray bark, a cinnamon brown pith, and conspicuous leaf scars. The gray-green leaves are long and narrow and tapered to the tip, with smooth margins. Veins are pinnate, sunken slightly on the upper surface but conspicuously raised on the lower surface. Young leaves are covered with soft white hairs which become stiff as the leaf ages.

The large cylindrical flower clusters, up to 20 inches (50 cm) in length, form at the ends of branches. Clusters are compound with numerous small stems arising from the central axis; each small stem is tightly coiled (scorpioid), progressively uncoiling as it ages. Flowers are sequentially produced in two rows along the upper side as the stem uncoils. New flowers open at the base of the coil; seeds develop along the uncoiled stem. Flowers are bisexual, mostly blue or purple, sometimes pinkish. Five petals are joined at the base, expanding outward into a bell shape that is subtended by a four or five-lobed calyx. The five stamens are attached to the corolla tube at unequal distances from the top and, at maturity, extend beyond the petals; the outer portion of filaments are often pale red with purplish anthers. There is a four-lobed, superior ovary with a forked style with unequal stigmatic branches which ultimately project beyond the corolla. The style may be pink to lavender in color. Flowers occur Feb. – Oct.7

Each flower produces up to four brownish nutlets. These remain within the calyx, firmly attached to the base of the pistil. The nutlets are pyramidal to wedge-shaped, adorned with bumps and spines, about 1/8 inch (2-3 mm).

coiled leaf of the Pride of Maderia with a single blue flower
older brown stem with leaf scars
purple cone shaped flower heads

Distribution

Pride of Madeira is native to Madeira Island,172,199,206 the largest island in the Portuguese archipelago (also called Madeira) located in the North Atlantic, 350 miles (560 km) off the coast of Morocco. Madeira has a Mediterranean climate similar to that of San Diego with summer drought and high winds which fuel occasional wildfires.

Pride of Madeira has been widely introduced to Mediterranean climate gardens around the world.172,212 From many of these gardens it has naturalized. In California, wild populations occur below 1800 feet (540 m) along the central and southern coast and in the San Francisco Bay Area .7

In 2004 and 2006 the plant was evaluated by the California Invasive Plant Council,183 which concluded that the species can spread slowly into the state’s native habitats but has only minor ecological impacts on a statewide basis. On the local scale, however, the City of Encinitas has banned the use of pride of Madeira on city property and public rights-of-way, and in new, permitted landscaping projects.207

In San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, the pride of Madeira is found on the so Central Basin, escaping down the slopes from plantings in gardens along the top of the cliff.* There is also one clump in the Central Basin, near the I-5 overpass.

(Since the plants are not accessible from the trail, many of our photographs were taken outside the Reserve.)

Classification 2

Pride of Madeira is a dicot angiosperm in the borage family (Boraginaceae). This family is large and diverse, and members most frequently occur in tropical and subtropical climates; herbaceous species are concentrated in the Mediterranean region and warm temperate Asia.44 Recently, the borage family was merged with several other families when genetic information suggested that some members of each family were descendants of a common ancestor.41,106

Members of the borage family, as currently recognized, are characterized by flowers that are produced along a coiled stalk, by foliage covered with small, stiff hairs, and by a fruit that splits into four one-seeded nutlets.44,143 Many genera are toxic. Many of the best-known members of the borage family are not native, including the garden heliotrope and forget-me-not, and the culinary borage, which is used in soups and salads.44

Other members of the borage family in the Reserve include common phacelia (Phacelia distans), coast fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia), fiesta flower (Pholistoma auritum) and salt heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum).48

Alternate Scientific Names:

Echium fastuosum

Jepson eFlora Taxon Page
side view of spikey green plant
pine cone shaped purple flower heads
side view of closed blue Pride of Madeira

Ecology

The flowers of pride of Madeira, like those of the related Echium vulgare211 appear to be “protandrous” – the stamens mature and release their pollen before the pistil matures. This is a strategy evolved by many flowers to reduce the likelihood of self-pollination and promote the dissemination of the pollen to different plants.41

The flower spikes of pride of Madeira are exceptionally large and attract numerous bees and butterflies127,199,208 and even occasional hummingbirds. Large flower clusters attract more pollinators, which helps ensure pollination, but they increase the likelihood that pollinator will visit several neighboring flowers. This increases the probability of self-pollination and reduces the spread of pollen. Unfortunately, we have found no literature addressing the pollination ecology of pride of Madeira, but the plant presumably has evolved a balance between attracting pollinators and disseminating pollen that is appropriate for its native habitat.

back lit Pride of Madeira flower
close up front lit light blue flower with visible
close up small five petal blue flower

Human Uses

Many species in the borage family have high levels of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) in their seeds; reportedly this includes pride of Madeira.208 GLA is one of the omega-6 fatty acids, which in small amounts, are essential for human growth and development but which must be obtained through food. Research has indicated that omega-6 fatty acids help to fight inflammation related to a variety of ailments.213 GLA as “Borage Oil” is readily available as a health supplement, but the species of borage is not usually identified, so the role of pride-of-Madeira is uncertain. We found one reference208 to the use of pride of Madeira in herbal medicine; an infusion of leaves is used for headaches, fevers, and coughs.

However, we do not advise nibbling on the seeds or the leaves of pride of Madeira. According to the California Poison Control System,209 all parts of the plant are considered poisonous and ingestion may cause serious effects to heart, liver, kidneys or brain. If that is not enough, the stiff hairs on the foliage may make you itch.

pine cone shaped purple pride of madeira flowers
looking down on small blue flowers amid green fern like leaves
microscopic picture of underside of leaf with visible stiff white hairs

Interesting Facts

The root of the genus name, Echium, comes from the ancient Greek word echis meaning “viper”. Some think this refers to the fact that the seed resembles a viper’s head;21 others suggest it comes from an old belief that a related plant (E. vulgare) was a remedy for the adder’s bite.206

Pride of Madeira is a spectacular landscape plant.214 It received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2002,206 and has been widely introduced to Mediterranean climate gardens.172,212

Unfortunately, the Pride of Madeira is considered threatened in its native range.183 It is native only to high altitude rocky cliffs and terraces on the small island of Madeira where it occupies less than 150 square miles (362 km2).172 It is reported to be threatened by removal by plant collectors, development of roads and communication networks, recreational activities and natural disasters (threats which impact many of our native species). In 2010 a “major fire rage” burned through its main habitat. In 2013, the Pride of Madeira was evaluated for the IUCN Red list of threatened species,172 but was not given a threat category because fieldwork to determine the survival of the main population after the fire was lacking. How sad if the population is more secure in the gardens of coastal California than its natural habitat.

spikey brown tear drop shaped nutlet under microscope
bright blue open flowers with five petals
side view of purple cone shaped pride of madeira

Photo Gallery