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These species grow in Europe, North Africa, South Africa and Western Asia. They are introduced in the United States.
They consist of annual plants, biennial plants and perennial plants with the general characteristics of the borage family. They are generally herbs, covered with bristly hairs. The leaves are simple or undulate, covered with stiff hairs.
The small radially symmetrical flowers are sapphire blue and retain their colour a long time. The plants show numerous flowers with 5 sepals, united at their bases, and 5 petals forming a narrow tube facing upwards. The flowers grow in several axillary cymes, simple or branched, or are clustered at the end. The flowers are much frequented by bees.
The roots of Anchusa (just like those of Alkanna and Lithospermum) contain anchusin (or alkanet-red ), a red-brown resinoid colouring matter. It is insoluble in water, but soluble in alcohol, chloroform and ether.
There are four subgenera : Buglossum, Buglossoides, Buglossellum and Anchusa.
The first two form one subclade, the other two each a separate subclade. The subclade of the subgenus Anchusa (containing Anchusa capensis) is largely unresolved.
If we consider Anchusa s.l., then it includes the subgenus Limbata, which diverges markedly in its floral morphology.
The subgenera Buglossum, Buglossellum and Buglossoides clearly need new independent entities, while the subgenus Anchusa needs a narrower concept. This way taxonomy and phylogeny with respect to Anchusa can become completely analogous.
The following genera are synonyms for Anchusa : Buglossum Mill., Hormuzakia Gusul, Lycopsis L. and Phyllocara Gusul.. The genus Anchusella Bigazzi et al. is sometimes included in Anchusa.
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