A perennial with large basal leaves and a hairy, upright flowering stalk. Flower stalks have a few clasping leaves, with no leafy bracts among the flower branches. Flowers are like small forget-me-nots, washed-out sky blue to greenish white, small tubes ending in 5 rounded lobes, about ½ inch across. Blooms April–June. Leaves mostly basal, elliptical with long petioles, very hairy, soft, to 1 foot long; stem leaves few, clasping the hairy stems. Fruit 4 round nutlets, hairy, depressed on the upper surface, clinging to man and beast.
Similar species: Common hound’s tongue (C. officinale) has purplish-red (not pale or light blue) flowers, leafy bracts at the branch points in the flowering stalks, and narrower leaves overall. It’s a native of Eurasia and occurs along watercourses, in pastures, along roadsides and railroads, and other open, disturbed areas.
Height: to 2½ feet.
Central and southeastern Missouri.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in bottomland forests, moist upland forests, pastures, and banks of streams and rivers.
Our native species was used medicinally by Native Americans for a variety of ailments. Some modern herbalists have confused C. virginianum with European comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Many borages contain toxic alkaloids and can potentially sicken a person.
Like several other plants that produce sticktights, beggar’s ticks, and stickseeds, wild comfrey produces nutlets with spiny, barbed tubercles that attach to fur (and clothing). This adaptation distributes the seeds away from the parent plant, and a localized disaster may not destroy all of them.