A species of late spring and early summer, bugle is a creeping plant with spikes of blue-purple flowers on stems growing upright from a rosette of slightly crinkled, shiny, often purplish, leaves. It spreads by means of stolons
(or runners), creating attractive ground cover flowering in May and June under the dappled shade of hedge banks, woodland clearings and glades and may also be found growing in damp grassland. Bugle is native throughout the British Isles, and was first officially recorded by William Turner in 1548 who noted that bugle ‘growth in shadowy places and moyst groundes
As a medicinal herb, bugle was used to stop bleeding from cuts and wounds – both internal and external. Its alternative names sicklewort and carpenter’s herb suggest it was used for cuts caused by accidents at work.2.
In the garden, bugle deserves a place where beautiful spring ground cover is needed in dampish soil, under a tree, alongside a hedge or the edge of a lawn, with other woodland flowers such as primrose. It will also look at home at the front of a more formal border. For best results plant as a plug or small pot plant in well-drained, moist, slightly acid to alkaline soil. Several cultivated varieties can be found in garden centres, Ajuga reptans
'Catlin's Giant' carries the RHS Award of Garden Merit. The native species is available from most of the suppliers
on our list.
Bugle is a good source of early nectar for bees and bumblebees, and butterflies such as the green-veined white Pieris napi and orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines. In north-west Scotland, bugle, together with bluebell, is a favourite nectar source for the chequered skipper butterfly Carterocephalus palaemon.3. This butterfly became extinct in England around 1975. Other pollinators include the tiny pollen beetle Meligethes pedicularius which is associated with bugle and other flowers in the Lamiaceae such as white dead-nettle and betony.4.
The bugle’s flower has been recorded as a source of nectar for both the narrow-bordered bee hawkmoth Hemaris tityus and the broad-bordered bee hawkmoth Hemaris fuciformis.5. It is the main larval food plant for the micromoth Endothenia ustulana, an uncommon species found mainly in southern England.6.
1. Pearman, D. (2017). The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain and Ireland, A compilation of the first records for 1670 species and aggregates, covering Great Britain, Ireland, The Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland. P.88.
2. Hooper, M. 1984. Herbs and Medicinal Plants. Kingfisher Books. London. P.55.
3. Thomas, J. and Lewington, R. 2014. The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing. P.12.
4. See the Biological Record Centre database
5. Waring, P. and Townsend, M. Second edition. 2009. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing. P.163.
Page written by Caroline Ware. Compiled by Steve Head