Symphytum officinale L.

common comfrey

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Common comfrey is found escaped from cultivation in all New England states. A sterile cultivar is frequently planted in gardens, somewhat reducing the probability of escape, although it easily spreads from root fragments. Its use as a medicinal herb is controversial as it is known to contain toxic alkaloids. However, it is most frequently used topically for compresses and salves.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), meadows and fields

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Flower petal color
  • blue to purple
  • white
  • yellow
Leaf type
the leaves are simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
Leaf arrangement
alternate: there is one leaf per node along the stem
Leaf blade edges
the edge of the leaf blade is entire (has no teeth or lobes)
Flower symmetry
there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)
Number of sepals, petals or tepals
there are five petals, sepals, or tepals in the flower
Fusion of sepals and petals
the petals or the sepals are fused into a cup or tube
Stamen number
5
Fruit type (general)
the fruit is dry but does not split open when ripe
Fruit length
5–6 mm
Show All Characteristics
  • Clonal plantlets
    Bulbils
    the plant does not appear to have bulbils
    Bulblets replace flowers
    there are no bulblets where the flowers are located
  • Flowers
    Anther attachment
    the anther is attached by its base to the filament
    Anther color
    the anthers show no hint of a pink, reddish or purplish tint
    Anther length
    3.5 mm
    Anther opening
    the anthers have narrow slits or furrows that run lengthwise along the anthers
    Anther spurs
    the anthers do not have spurs on them
    Anther tube length
    0 mm
    Calyx growth after flowering
    the calyx does not grow to cover or partially cover the fruit
    Calyx symmetry
    there are two or more ways to evenly divide the calyx (the calyx is radially symmetrical)
    Carpel hairs
    the carpels have no hairs
    Carpels fused
    the carpels are fused to one another
    Cilia on petals
    the petal margins do not have cilia
    Cleistogamous flowers
    there are no cleistogamous flowers on the plan
    Corolla palate
    no
    Corona lobe length
    0 mm
    Epicalyx
    the flower does not have an epicalyx
    Epicalyx number of parts
    0
    Filament length
    3 mm
    Filament surface
    the filament is smooth, with no hairs or scales
    Flower appearance
    the flowers appear after the leaves have appeared
    Flower description
    the flower has a superior ovary, and lacks a hypanthium
    Flower orientation
    the flower bends downwards or hangs downwards
    Flower petal color
    • blue to purple
    • white
    • yellow
    Flower reproductive parts
    the flower has both pollen- and seed-producing parts
    Flower symmetry
    there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)
    Flowers sunken into stem
    no
    Form of style
    the style is knob-like at the tip, and unbranched
    Fringed petal edges
    the petals are not fringed
    Fused stamen clusters
    NA
    Fusion of sepals and petals
    the petals or the sepals are fused into a cup or tube
    Hairs on flower stalk
    the flower stalk has hairs on it
    Hairs on inflorescence
    the axis of the inflorescence has hairs entirely without glands
    Horns in hoods (Asclepias)
    NA
    Hypanthium
    the flower does not have a hypanthium
    Hypanthium length
    0 mm
    Inflorescence one-sided
    the flowers are all or nearly all arrayed on one side of the inflorescence axis or branches of the inflorescence
    Inner tepals (Rumex)
    NA
    Interior flower disk
    the flower does not have an interior disc
    Length of flower stalk
    4–8 mm
    Marks on petals
    there are no noticeable marks on the petals
    Nectar spur
    the flower has no nectar spurs
    Number of branches in umbel
    0
    Number of carpels
    2
    Number of pistils
    1
    Number of sepals, petals or tepals
    there are five petals, sepals, or tepals in the flower
    Number of styles
    1
    Ovary position
    the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
    Perianth shape
    the perianth is campanulate (bell-shaped, with a tube about as long as wide, flaring at the mouth)
    Petal and sepal arrangement
    the flower includes two cycles of petal- or sepal-like structures
    Petal and sepal colors
    • blue to purple
    • white
    • yellow
    Petal appearance
    the petals are thin and delicate, and pigmented (colored other than green or brown)
    Petal base
    the petal narrows gradually or does not narrow at the base
    Petal folding in bud
    the petals in bud are arranged in a cycle with edges overlapping like roof shingles (imbricate)
    Petal folds or pleats
    the petals of the flower do not have folds or plaits
    Petal glandular dots or scales
    no
    Petal hairs (Viola)
    NA
    Petal hairs on inner/upper surface
    there are no hairs on the inner/upper petal surface
    Petal length
    12–18 mm
    Petal length relative to sepals
    the petals are longer than the sepals
    Petal number
    5
    Petal shape
    the petal outline is roughly triangular
    Petal tip shape
    the petal tip is obtuse (bluntly pointed)
    Petal tips (Cuscuta)
    NA
    Raceme attachment (Veronica)
    NA
    Reproductive system
    all the flowers have both carpels and stamens (synoecious)
    Scales inside corolla
    yes
    Sepal and petal color
    the sepals are different from the petals
    Sepal appearance
    the sepals are green or brown, and leaf-like in texture
    Sepal appendages
    the sepals do not have appendages on them
    Sepal appendages (Oenothera)
    NA
    Sepal auricles
    the sepals have no auricles
    Sepal cilia
    the sepals have cilia on their edges
    Sepal color
    • blue to purple
    • green to brown
    • pink to red
    Sepal features
    the sepals do not have any of the mentioned special features
    Sepal length
    5–7 mm
    Sepal number
    5
    Sepal orientation
    the sepals are slightly curved outwards from the corolla
    Sepal relative length
    the sepal lobes are longer than the fused portion
    Sepal shape
    • the sepal outline is lanceolate (lance-shaped; narrow, gradually tapering from the base to the tip)
    • the sepal outline is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
    Sepal texture
    the sepals are either very thin but flexible, like a membrane, or they are leaf-like in texture
    Sepal tip shape
    • the sepal tip is acuminate (tapers to a very narrow point)
    • the sepal tip is acute (is sharply pointed)
    Sepal uniformity
    all the sepals are about the same size
    Sepals fused only to sepals
    the sepals are fused to each other (not other flower parts), at least near their bases
    Spur length
    0 mm
    Spur number
    NA
    Stamen appendages
    stamen appendages are absent
    Stamen attachment
    the stamens are attached at or near the bases of the petals or tepals
    Stamen length
    6.5 mm
    Stamen lengths differ
    the stamens are all approximately the same length
    Stamen morphology
    the stamens within each cycle are the same
    Stamen number
    5
    Stamen position relative to petals
    the stamens are lined up with the sepals
    Stamen relative length
    anything
    Stamens fused
    the stamens are not attached to one another
    Staminodes
    there are no staminodes on the flower
    Stigma position
    the stigmas are positioned at the tip of the style
    Style petal-like
    the styles are not petal-like
    Style relative length
    the stigma protrudes beyond the mouth of the corolla
    Surface of ovary
    the ovary surface has no points, bumps or wrinkles
    Umbel flower reproductive parts
    NA
    Upper lip of bilabiate corolla
    NA
  • Fruits or seeds
    Achene relative orientation
    NA
    Achene shape
    NA
    Achene surface (Polygonum)
    NA
    Achene type
    NA
    Berry color
    NA
    Capsule color (Viola)
    NA
    Capsule ribs
    NA
    Capsule splitting
    NA
    Carpel beak length
    0 mm
    Fruit (pyxis) dehiscence
    NA
    Fruit beak length
    0 mm
    Fruit features (Brassicaceae)
    NA
    Fruit length
    5–6 mm
    Fruit locules
    four
    Fruit stalk orientation
    the fruits curve or droop downwards
    Fruit type (general)
    the fruit is dry but does not split open when ripe
    Fruit type (specific)
    the fruit is a schizocarp (when dry it splits into sections, each holding one or more seeds)
    Hair type on fruit
    NA
    Hairs on fruit
    the fruits are not hairy
    Legumes (Fabaceae)
    NA
    Mericarp length
    5–6 mm
    Mericarp segment shape (Desmodium)
    NA
    Other markings on berry
    NA
    Ovary stipe
    • the ovary or fruit does not have a stipe
    • the ovary or fruit has a stipe
    Placenta arrangement
    the plant has axile placentation, in which the ovules are attached where the septa of a compound ovary are united, usually on the central axis, or to the septa themselves
    Rows of seeds in fruit (Brassicaceae)
    NA
    Schizocarpic fruit compression
    the fruit is not flattened
    Schizocarpic fruit segments
    4
    Seed length
    5–6 mm
    Seed number
    1–4
    Seed relative length
    the seed is longer than it is wide
    Seed surface
    • the seed is hairless
    • the seed is smooth or without clear markings
    Seeds comose
    no hairs
    Septum in fruit (Brassicaceae)
    NA
    Wings on fruit
    the fruit does not have wings on it
    prickles on fruits
    the fruits do not have thorn-like defensive structures
  • Glands or sap
    Glands on leaf blade
    the leaf blades do not have glandular dots or scales
    Sap
    the sap is clear and watery
    Sap color
    the sap is clear
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is an herb (it has self-supporting stems)
    Horizontal rooting stem
    the plant does not have stolons
    Lifespan
    the plant lives more than two years
    Parasitism
    the plant is not parasitic
    Plant color
    the leaves or young stems of the plant are green
    Plants darken when dry
    no
    Spines on plant
    the plant has no spines
    Underground organs
    there is a thickened taproot on the plant
  • Leaves
    Bracteole edges
    NA
    Bracteole length
    0 mm
    Bracteole number (Apiaceae)
    0
    Bracteole shape
    NA
    Bracteoles
    there are no bracteoles on the plant
    Bracts in plantain (Plantago)
    NA
    Final leaf segment length (compound lvs only)
    0 mm
    Final leaf segment length to width ratio (compound lvs only)
    0
    Final leaf segment width (compound lvs only)
    0 mm
    Floral bracts
    the flower has one or more bracts associated with it
    Hairs on leaf stalk
    the petiole has hairs on it
    Hairs on underside of leaf
    the underside of the leaf is fuzzy or hairy
    Hairs on upper side of leaf
    the upper side of the leaf is fuzzy or hairy
    Hooked hairs on underside of leaf
    no
    Inflated hairs on leaf
    the leaf blade does not have inflated hairs on it
    Leaf arrangement
    alternate: there is one leaf per node along the stem
    Leaf blade base
    • the leaf has a distinct leaf stalk (petiole)
    • the leaf has no stalk
    • the leaf has no stalk and at the base it clasps the stem
    Leaf blade base shape
    • the base of the leaf blade is cuneate (wedge-shaped, tapers to the base with relatively straight, converging edges), or narrow
    • the base of the leaf blade is rounded
    Leaf blade base symmetry
    the leaf blade base is symmetrical
    Leaf blade bloom
    the underside of the leaf has no noticeable bloom
    Leaf blade edges
    the edge of the leaf blade is entire (has no teeth or lobes)
    Leaf blade flatness
    the leaf is flat (planar) at the edges
    Leaf blade hairs
    the leaf blade has simple hairs with no glands, and not tangled or wooly
    Leaf blade length
    150–300 mm
    Leaf blade primary vein pattern
    the secondary veins branch off at intervals from the primary vein
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is lanceolate (lance-shaped; widest below the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
    Leaf blade surface colors
    the upper side of the leaf blade is relatively uniform in color
    Leaf blade texture
    the leaf blade is herbaceous (has a leafy texture)
    Leaf blade vein pattern
    the major veins form a net-like pattern due to splitting and rejoining
    Leaf blade veins
    the leaf blade has one main vein running from the base towards the tip (it may or may not have secondary veins)
    Leaf blade width
    70–120 mm
    Leaf duration
    the leaves drop off in winter (or they whither but persist on the plant)
    Leaf form
    the leaves are green, with an expanded blade and a leaf-like texture
    Leaf hair orientation
    the hairs are standing up straight or curved in different directions
    Leaf shiny
    the upper side of the leaf is dull or slightly shiny
    Leaf spines
    there are no spines on the leaf edges
    Leaf stalk
    • the leaves have leaf stalks
    • the leaves have no leaf stalks, but attach directly to the stem
    Leaf stalk attachment to leaf
    the petiole attaches at the basal margin of the leaf blade
    Leaf stalk base
    the petiole base clasps the stem or sheathes the stem
    Leaf stalk length
    At least 0 mm
    Leaf teeth and lobes
    the edge of the leaf blade is entire (has no teeth or lobes)
    Leaf tip
    the tip of the leaf blade is acuminate (tapers to a long, thin point)
    Leaf tufts in axils
    there are no clusters of smaller leaves growing out of axils
    Leaf type
    the leaves are simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
    Leaf types
    There is a gradual change in appearance of the leaves from the base (or near the base) of the plant to those from further up on the stem, with leaves progressively changing as one moves higher on the stem (often becoming shorter, or less toothed/lobed, and/or with shorter petioles).
    Leaf variation
    • the leaves are nearly similar in size, prominence of teeth, and length of stalks throughout the stem
    • the lower leaves are larger, toothier, and/or on longer stalks than the upper leaves
    Leaflet number
    0
    Leaflet petiolules
    NA
    Leaves per node
    there is one leaf per node along the stem
    Pinnately compound leaf type
    NA
    Specific leaf type
    the leaves are simple (lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
    Stipels
    NA
    Stipule edges
    NA
    Stipule features
    NA
    Stipule fused to leaf stalk
    NA
    Stipule length
    0 mm
    Stipule shape
    NA
    Stipules
    there are no stipules on the plant
    Teeth per side of leaf blade
    0
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
  • Scent
    Plant odor
    the plant does not have much of a smell
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Branched tendrils
    NA
    Direction of stem hairs
    • the hairs point downwards, or they bend outwards and then downwards
    • the hairs point mostly upwards to outwards
    Flowering stem cross-section
    the flowering stem is circular, or with lots of small angles so that it is roughly circular
    Hair between stem nodes
    the stem has hairs between the nodes
    Hairs between stem nodes
    the hairs on the stem are plain, without glands or branches, and not tangled
    Hooked hairs on stem between nodes
    no
    Leaves on stem
    there is at least one full leaf above the base of the flowering stem
    Plant height
    30–120 cm
    Stem bloom
    there is no powdery or waxy film on the stem
    Stem hair distribution
    the hairs on the stem are distributed more of less uniformly
    Stem nodes swollen
    the stem is not swollen at the nodes
    Stem orientation
    the stems are upright or angled outwards
    Stem roughness between nodes
    the stem does not feel rough
    Stem spacing
    • the plant is growing in tufts, or compact clusters with closely spaced stems, or it is densely matted together in clumps, cushionlike
    • the plant is solitary, or a few plants are growing together
    Stem succulence
    the stems are not succulent
    Tendril origin
    NA
    Tendrils
    the plant does not have tendrils
    Wings on stem
    the stem has wings on it that run down the stem from the leaf nodes

Wetland Status

Not classified

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

No

Synonyms

  • Symphytum officinale ssp. uliginosum (Kern.) Nyman
  • Symphytum tanaicense Steven
  • Symphytum uliginosum Kern.

Family

Boraginaceae

Genus

Symphytum

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

2.  Symphytum officinale L. E

common comfrey. Symphytum officinale L. ssp. uliginosum (Kern.) Nyman; S. tanaicense Steven; S. uliginosum Kern. • CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Roadsides, ditches, former homesteads, gardens. At present their appears to be two cytotypes of Symphytum officinale that may warrant recognition at some level. The 2 n=24 or 48 type (diploid and tretraploid, respectively) appears to be the common form in New England. It shows hispid stems that are not harsh to the touch, leaves with prominent decurrent wings, marginal setae of the sepals distributed in an irregular pattern, and white (usually diploid) or purple (usually tetraploid) corollas. The 2 n=40 type, known from North America but yet documented in New England, has tuberculate-based hairs on the stem that are harsh to the touch, leaves with shorter decurrent wings, marginal setae of the sepals distributed in a uniform manner, and purple corollas. This latter cytotype has been named ssp. uliginosum (or S. tanaicense at the rank of species).

1×2. Symphytum asperum × Symphytum officinale Symphytum ×‌uplandicum Nyman is a very rare comfrey hybrid in New England known from CT, VT. It resembles S. asperum in that the leaves are not decurrent on the stem (or infrequently shortly decurrent for a distance of less than 10 mm). However, the hybrid differs in that it has a corolla 13–16 mm long, purple or pink flower buds, a calyx 5–7 mm long, and short, broad papillae on the margins of the fornices (vs. corolla 9–14 mm long, red flower buds, calyx 3–5 mm long, and long, narrow papillae on the margins of the fornices). From S. officinale it can additionally be distinguished by ascending corolla lobes and dull brown schizocarps (vs. recurved corolla lobes and lustrous black schizocarps). Two cytotypes of this hybrid are known, depending on which cytotype of S. officinale was involved in the cross (see discussion under S. officinale). Thus far, only the 2 n=40 type of this hybrid has been collected in New England (with a 2 n=48 S. officinale parent). This hybrid shows softer stem pubescence, slightly longer leaf base decurrence (on average), and blunter fornices than the 2 n=36 type (which is known from North America).