Symphytum officinale (Common Comfrey)

Plant Info
Also known as: Knitbone
Genus:Symphytum
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:Europe, Asia
Status:
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; average to moist, disturbed soil; roadsides, waste areas, fields
Bloom season:May - August
Plant height:24 to 42 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Racemes of ½-inch hanging, funnel-shaped, pink to purplish flowers on slender stalks, arising from leaf axils and the end of branching stems in the upper part of the plant. Clusters are initially tightly coiled, unwinding as it matures. The bell-like flower has 5 shallow but distinct lobes that are strongly curled back; the tubular throat is about as long as the bell. Inside the tube are 5 stamens and a long, white style that barely protrudes beyond the mouth of the bell. The calyx behind the flower has 5 lobes that are lance shaped and shorter than the floral tube. Calyx and flower stalks are both covered in spreading, bristly hairs.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are basal, alternate on the lower stem and may be opposite in the upper plant, 2 to 10 inches long, ¾ to 4 inches wide, lance-elliptic to egg-shaped, toothless, bristly hairy, tapering to a pointed tip and narrowing at the base to a winged stalk. Basal leaves are largest and long-stalked, becoming smaller and shorter-stalked as they ascend the stem with the upper leaves stalkless or nearly so.

[photo of stem and leaf hairs] The winged leaf stalks extend down the stem (decurrent). Stems are erect to ascending, multiple from the base and forming dense clumps, branched in the upper plant, and densely covered in bristly hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a cluster of 4 nutlets that mature to shiny brownish-black. The elongated white style projects from the center while it ripens.

Notes:

Common Comfrey is another garden escapee that, while not widespread, is likely under-reported in Minnesota. It is similar in many respects to the native Northern Bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), which is most easily distinguished by its blue flower color, appressed hairs on the calyx, forest and forest edge habitat, and range limited to our northeast counties, where Common Comfrey is much more densely clump-forming, has pink to purplish flowers, spreading hairs on the calyx, is more likely found in sunnier, disturbed soils such as roadsides and vacant lots, and may be found anywhere in the state, especially in areas where it is sold as nursery stock. While it may not produce abundant seed, it spreads vegetatively, resprouting from root fragments. Common Comfrey has a long history of medicinal use but also has toxic properties that can cause liver damage and even death.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Savanna Portage State Park, Aikin County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Janet - Near Tamarac Nat'l Wildlife Refuge in Becker County
on: 2016-08-20 18:42:56

I found these plants on June 23, 2014. I've just finally figured out what they are. They were growing in a roadside wet area near a residence on the edge of the NWR.

Posted by: Michael - Courtland
on: 2017-02-03 19:56:28

I encourage it for use as a topical pain reliever.

Posted by: BILL C - WINONA
on: 2017-05-25 11:36:14

AKA "Hippie Weed" in honor of the folks who brought it to our farm. Unfortunately it has become a real pest with thousands of plants. It will spread by seed. Some of the same folks who brought it here used to live down the road in a house that was later torn down. In the adjacent cornfield hundreds of plants have remained for 30+ years despite the farmer's tillage and herbicide use.

Posted by: Ruth O - Hovland
on: 2018-06-09 10:35:03

First found along a forest roadside on May 21, 2018. Having documented all flowers in the area over 35 years, I can say with confidence that it's never been here before.

Posted by: Brett - Champlin
on: 2018-06-22 20:54:40

Have seen this here at Elm Creek before but it was in flower today. Was hoping it was a native, oh well.

Posted by: Pat W - Pillager
on: 2019-05-17 12:51:29

Given to me at the Plymouth plant swap many years ago as "Virginia Bluebells", which it ain't! This plant is very tenacious and is difficult to totally eradicate. Can be easily confused with Bluebells so be careful out there. My advice, If the leaves and stems are hairy, get rid of it.

Posted by: April Leonard - Milaca
on: 2019-07-09 13:12:34

I have this plant growing on my farm in Milaca. It grows around my well it has not gotten any bigger or spread but returns in the same spot each year. July 2019

Posted by: LeAnn Plinske - Baxter
on: 2020-06-12 10:02:04

Found this plant currently growing and blooming along some trails at Northland Arboretum in Brainerd.

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