By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
One flower that is sure to make jaws drop is the Echium wildpretii of tower of jewels flower. The amazing biennial can grow from 5 to 8 feet (1.5-2.4 m.) tall and is coated in the second year with brilliant pink flowers. If sheer size doesn’t impress you, the silvery foliage and prominent anthers, give the flowers and foliage a sparkle when sunlight hits them. Keep reading for information on tower of jewels plant care.
This variety of Echium is native to the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. In this region the weather is mild with sunny warm sea breezes in summer and cool, but not freezing, winters. Echium tower of jewels starts its first year of life as a grayish to silver rosette set low to the ground.
In the second year, it produces a tall, thick flower spire with slightly ragged silver foliage below. The spire bursts with cerise to salmon pink-cupped flowers arranged in rows upon rows. Each of the nearly one hundred blooms has white anthers reaching out from the throat of the flower. These catch the light and along with the foliage, making the plant appear to be dipped in pixie dust.
The plants are not terribly hardy, but a greenhouse is a great method for how to grow Echium. Temperate and warmer zone gardeners should try growing tower of jewels as a centerpiece for the exterior landscape. The Echium tower of jewels flower will give you years upon years of breathtaking beauty and architectural delight.
The tower of jewels plant can survive temperatures below 20 F. (-6 C.) if given some protection but is generally a warm to temperate weather specimen. Cooler areas should try to grow the plant in a solarium or greenhouse.
The best soil is sandy to gritty and a cactus soil works well for potted plants. Site the Echium tower of jewels in full sun with some protection from the wind.
These plants are quite drought tolerant but superior tower of jewels care will include regular watering in summer to help produce a strong spire that doesn’t tip over.
The smitten gardener doesn’t have to worry in the second year when tower of jewels dies away. After the flowers are spent, hundreds of tiny seeds release to the ground below. Investigate carefully in spring and you will see many volunteer plants, starting the whole biennial cycle over anew.
Growing tower of jewels seeds in colder zones may require sowing in flats indoors at least eight weeks before the date of the last frost. Lay the seeds on top of the soil, dusting with fine sand, and put the flat on a seed heat mat or other warm location. Keep the medium lightly moist until germination and then ensure the seedlings get bright sunlight and daily water.
These plants take care of themselves for the most part. Watch for slug damage to rosettes in the first year and indoor plants may become prey to whitefly and red spider mites.
Moderate water will help the plant grow strong and prevent it from tipping over. You may have to provide a stake if it gets too top heavy, especially in potted Echium.
Don’t cut back the flower until the seeds have had a chance to sow themselves. This plant will become the jewel of your garden and is both rewarding and low maintenance.
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|Plant Habit:||Herb/Forb |
|Life cycle:||Perennial |
|Sun Requirements:||Full Sun |
Full Sun to Partial Shade
|Water Preferences:||Mesic |
|Soil pH Preferences:||Slightly acid (6.1 – 6.5) |
Neutral (6.6 – 7.3)
Slightly alkaline (7.4 – 7.8)
|Minimum cold hardiness:||Zone 9a -6.7 °C (20 °F) to -3.9 °C (25 °F) |
|Maximum recommended zone:||Zone 11 |
|Plant Height :||3 to 12 feet|
|Plant Spread :||2 to 3 feet|
|Leaves:||Unusual foliage color |
Other: Narrow, gray-green
|Flower Color:||Blue |
|Bloom Size:||Under 1" |
|Flower Time:||Spring |
Late spring or early summer
|Uses:||Suitable as Annual |
|Wildlife Attractant:||Bees |
|Resistances:||Deer Resistant |
|Propagation: Seeds:||Needs specific temperature: 55ºF-65ºF |
Days to germinate: 2 to 3 weeks
Depth to plant seed: Surface sow, covering with a very thin layer of soil.
|Containers:||Suitable in 3 gallon or larger |
Needs excellent drainage in pots
|HamiltonSquare||On January 24, 2018||Obtained plant|
From Annie's Annuals and Perennials. $8.95
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Sow seeds anytime from late winter onwards, and do best sown where actually needed, in a well-drained, sheltered spot. Alternatively, sow in a seed tray in early spring onto a soil-based compost. No artificial heat is needed, just good light. Seedlings usually appear in 2 to 3 weeks. Pot on into a small pot before planting out in a well-drained sheltered spot, or a large container that may be taken inside. Plants usually flower 24 months after sowing and may often vary in habit and flower colour as we have many species growing here, and very many busy bees.
Tower-of-jewels, Echium wildpretii, in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens. Photo by Yoko Arakawa.
The beauty of our spring display would not be complete without the towering, striking, and unusual plant, Echium wildpretii, ‘tower-of-jewels’. While this plant stands at nearly seven feet tall, its tiny, salmon-colored flowers are what make it truly magnificent. As each tassel of flowers blooms into graceful curves along the plant, the stamens stick out as if dancing from the tiny flowers, transforming this tower-of-jewels into a whimsical display of beauty.
The tower-of-jewels is native to the Canary Islands, specifically the island of Tenerife. Located just off the coast of Morocco, this tiny island is only 20 miles north to south, and 30 miles east to west. Amazingly, the plant’s native land has many significantly different climates. Echium wildpretii thrive at elevations of 4,200-6,500 feet above sea level, in the sub-alpine zone.
Echium wildpretii is classified as a monocarpic plant, meaning that once it has flowered, it dies. More commonly, however, the plant is viewed as a biennial since it typically flowers in its second year, depending on the length of cold treatment. In the wild, Echium wildpretii will bloom in late May or June. Then after flowering and setting seed, the island’s dry climate transforms the plants into skeleton-like spikes.
According to our records, the first seeds of Echium came to Longwood in 1983, and it took years of extensive research on how to best grow this remarkable plant until it was first displayed in Longwood’s Conservatory in 1991. Now, more than two decades later, the tall tower-of-jewels has become essential to our spring display. When compared to the plant’s native habitat—with rocky and volcanically soiled slopes, dry, cool summers and wet, cold winters—our hot, humid summers and cold, dark winters pose quite a challenge when growing Echium at Longwood. Since it takes about 15-16 months to flower, we begin growing the plant from seeds more than a year ahead of time. Our gardeners then carefully monitor the plants’ growth to ensure we have a beautiful display for the spring.
We continue to grow the Echium through summer and into fall in our greenhouses where we plant them into larger sized pots as they grow. At its largest, an Echium wildpretii plant will fill a 7-gallon pot.
While exquisite at all stages in the growing process, when the plant produces flowers it becomes exceptionally magnificent and is a highly-anticipated event. Right before blooming, the plants resemble a silver fountain, with thin whorled leaves extending outward. In the first week of November, when the plants are nearly a year old, we give them a cold period (about 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) for four to six weeks minimum. This is meant to simulate the winter climate so the plants will set flower buds. By February, the plants start spiking in preparation for flowering.
The center of the plant begins to twist beautifully like a little whirlpool signaling the coming bloom. Not long after, Echium wildpretii flowers into a true tower-of-jewels and are planted into the beds of our Conservatory.
As you walk through the Conservatory in the coming days and weeks, take notice of this exceptional plant from the Canary Islands only on view during Spring Blooms.
The Latin specific epithet wildpretii honours the 19th century Swiss botanist Hermann Josef Wildpret. 
The plant grows in the subalpine zone of the ravines of Mount Teide, a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain. It requires a lot of sun and is found in arid and dry conditions, but it tolerates frost down to −5 °C (23 °F).
It is a biennial, producing a dense rosette of leaves during the first year, flowers in the second year, and then dies. The red flowers are borne on an erect inflorescence, 1–3 m (3 ft 3 in–9 ft 10 in). The plant blooms from late spring to early summer in Tenerife.
This plant can be found as a garden ornamental but is intolerant of low temperatures, thus some winter protection is required in frost-prone areas. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.   As with most buglosses, it is favoured by bee-keepers for its high nectar content.
Q: We are growing watermelons in our garden for the first time. We have a lot of small fruits growing on the vines. How will we know when the watermelons are ripe?
A: Most experienced gardeners have their own “foolproof” method of determining watermelon maturity, but a little bit of luck is involved in all of the methods.
First, check the seed packet for haw many days to maturity that your variety requires. Are you close to the time specified? Next is the sound test. If you thump the melon and the sound is clear and high, the melon is not ready. If the sound is dull or low, the melon may be ready. Third is to look at the tendril closest to the melon. If the tendril is green, the melon is not ready if the tendril is dead, the melon may be ripe. The final test is to look at the spot on the bottom of the melon. If the spot is whitish, the melon is not ripe, but if the spot is yellow, the melon is probably ripe. Using these four indicators should improve your ability to find that perfectly ripe watermelon. Good luck!