Borago officinalis
Borage family (Boraginaceae)

Description: This annual wildflower is 1½–2½' tall, branching occasionally. The stems are light to medium green, terete, hollow, and densely covered with stiff white hairs. Alternate leaves along these stems are 2-6" long and about one-third as much across; they are ovate, obovate, or oblanceolate in shape with margins that are smooth and slightly undulate. The upper leaf surface is dark green, wrinkled from indented veins, and covered with sparse appressed hairs. The lower leaf surface is light to medium green and hairy primarily along the undersides of the veins.

Upper stems terminate in scorpioid cymes of nodding flowers. Individual flowers are ¾-1" across, consisting of 5 lanceolate blue petals (rarely white or pink), 5 green sepals, 5 dark blue to black anthers that merge together to form a central beak, and an ovary with a single style. The linear sepals are covered with stiff white hairs along their outer surfaces; they are about the same length or a little shorter than the petals. Like the stems and sepals, the branches of each inflorescence are covered with stiff white hairs; they are green to dark red. In Illinois, the blooming period occurs from mid-summer into the fall, lasting about 1½-3 months. Each flower is replaced by 4 dark brown nutlets. The root system consists of a taproot. This wildflower spreads by reseeding itself.

Cultivation: The preference is a sunny position, mesic conditions, and a fertile loamy soil.

Range & Habitat: Borage has naturalized in only a few counties in Illinois (see Distribution Map). Naturalized populations rarely persist for more than a few years. Borage was introduced into North America from Europe as an herbal and ornamental plant; it is native to the Mediterranean area. Habitats consist of areas near buildings, rubbish heaps consisting of organic material, and waste areas. Borage is still cultivated in gardens.

Faunal Associations: According to Muėller (1873/1883), the nectar and pollen of the flowers attract bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, other long-tongued bees, and Halictid bees. It is unclear to what extent mammalian herbivores in North America feed on the foliage of Borage, which is mildly toxic from the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Similarly, there is lack of information about the consumption of seeds by birds and rodents.

Photographic Location: An herbal garden at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: The most striking aspect of this plant are the star-shaped flowers; the petals have a shade of genuine blue that is uncommon among flowering plants. The flowers are reportedly edible with a sweet taste. The leaves are also eaten in salads and other dishes; they have a cucumber-like flavor. However, because of their potential toxicity, the leaves should be eaten in only small amounts. Because of its unique blue flowers, Borage is easy to identify. Other species in the Borage family have flowers with more conventional corollas.