Cynoglossum virginianum (Wild Comfrey)

Plant Info
Also known as: Northern Wild Comfrey, Wild Hound's-tongue
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; dry woods, woodland edges, slopes
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:15 to 30 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

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Detailed Information

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

[photo of flowers] 2 to 4 widely spreading clusters at the tip of the stem, each initially in a tight coil, unwinding and elongating with maturity. Clusters are mostly unbranched but occasionally fork. Flowers are bright blue-violet to nearly white, about 1/3 inch across, short-tubular with 5 spreading lobes, the lobes sometimes ragged around the edges. A white bead-like collar rings the mouth of the tube; stamens and styles are hidden inside the tube. The calyx behind the flower is densely hairy and about as long as the tube with 5 triangular lobes. Flower stalks are about 1/3 inch long and densely hairy.

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

[photo of mid-stem leaf] Leaves are basal and alternate, oblong-elliptic, 2½ to 8 inches long, ¾ to 2¾ inches wide, toothless, stiff-hairy on both surfaces and around the edges. Basal and the lowest stem leaves are largest and stalked, becoming smaller as they ascend the stem; the middle and upper leaves are stalkless and clasp the stem.

[photo of stem and leaf hairs] Stems are erect, unbranched and densely covered in stiff hairs, the hairs spreading in the lower plant and appressed in the flower clusters.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a cluster of 4 nutlets, each rounded at the top, joined at the base, and covered in bristles. The nutlets separate and fall away when mature.


Wild Comfrey is an uncommon forest species in the north central and northeast counties of Minnesota. It is easily identified by the sparsely flowered, coiling clusters at the tip of the stem, densely hairy stem, upper leaves clasping the stem, and bristly fruits. While there are herbal uses for Cynoglossum species, they are toxic to livestock and the bristly fruits can cause skin irritations. There are 2 recognized varieties: var. boreale, sometimes known as Cynoglossom boreale, is the northern species found in Minnesota, var. virginianum is a more southern species, more stout than var. boreale, its flowers with round, overlapping lobes and fruits ¼ to 1/3 inch long, where var. boreale flower lobes are more oblong and not overlapping, and fruits are mostly less than ¼ inch long.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Hubbard and Lake counties.


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