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Russian Comfrey

Symphytum × uplandicum

  • Written also: Russian Comphrey
  • Family: Borage Family – Boraginaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Fleshy root.
  • Height: 50–200 cm (20–40 in.). Stem quite roughly haired.
  • Flower: Corolla bell-shaped (funnel–trumpet-shaped), upper part lightly budded, 12–18 mm (0.5–0.7 in.) long, red, blue or purple, on rare occasions almost white, fused, 5-lobed. Corolla lobes often slightly twisted. Corolla mouth with 5 large, triangular tongue-like scales. Calyx fused, 5-lobed, 5–7 mm (0.2–0.3 in.) long, shorter than corolla funnel, hairy. Corolla lobes usually pointed, on rare occasions with roundish tip. Stamens 5. Gynoecium fused, single-styled. Cymes in axils, single-branched or scorpioid.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, shortly and narrowly decurrent. Blade ovate to elliptic with a rounded or cordate base and entire margins.
  • Fruit: 4-parted schizocarp. Mericarps oblique, wrinkled, granular, matt–slightly glossy.
  • Habitat: Inhabited areas, gardens, banks and coastline. Cultivated and feral.
  • Flowering time: June–August.
  • Harmfulness: Potentially or locally harmful alien species.

Comfrey species are among the largest of the Borage family plants that thrive in Finland. In favourable conditions they can reach up to 2 metres (6.5 ft) in height and the furry basal leaves can grow up to half a metre (1.6 ft) long. Common comfrey (S. officinale) has long been cultivated primarily as a medicinal herb, while prickly comfrey from the Caucuses (S. asperum) is grown mainly as an ornamental. Russian comfrey, which is a hybrid between common and prickly comfrey, comes in many variations and grows mainly independently. New hybrids are still occurring in the parent species’ common habitats, but Russian comfrey is far more widespread than prickly comfrey, which rarely escapes: it grows in roughly the same areas as common comfrey. The species probably spread to its current area a long time ago, when it was cultivated in Finland as cattle and chicken feed. The large-leafed and stout-rooted comfreys have held a tenacious grip on their growing areas for decades. Russian comfrey has secured a foothold among our wild plants in a number of places in Finland. Nowadays Russian comfrey is cultivated mainly as an ornamental plant, even though the beauty of the small flower is easily lost in the mass of large leaves. Comfrey flowers are above all much loved by bees: an almost failsafe way of bringing the buzz of honeybees to one’s garden is to plant comfrey there.

It can be very difficult to distinguish between different species of comfrey as all the species that grow in Finland share common habitats. Generally speaking, the best marker is the length of the calyx lobes, and their form, the form and colour of the corolla, how decurrent the leaves are, and the surface of the carpels can also be helpful.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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