Request for ID – purple-belled wildflower

Mystery plant

Thank you to the good folks who offered that yesterday’s mystery flower was not in fact a species of gentian but actually Turtlehead. I had paused at Turtlehead in my wildflower guide and considered it as a possibility, but finally dismissed it thinking the flowers didn’t look quite right. Of course, the photos in the guide are taken from the side, and mine is taken from the top, which makes direct comparison tricky.

Since I have such a marvelous crew of plant identification experts reading this blog, I was hoping I might call upon some of you for help with this flower. This plant is growing in my sister’s garden (and lawn, when unmown) in Peterborough, Ontario. She claims it to be one of the most tenacious and invasive plants in her garden, persisting in the lawn despite constant hacking with the mower, and spreading through the garden if it’s not kept under control by weeding/pruing. Despite its pretty and rather distinctive flowers, neither myself nor our mom were able to produce an identification for it. It’s been blooming for a couple of months, and is apparently down to just an odd bloom or two (these photos were taken a month ago).

Edit: Jackie of Saratoga Woods and Waterways has identified the plant as Common Comfrey, Symphytum officinale, apparently a medicinal plant that has many practical uses around the garden. Thanks for the help, Jackie!

Mystery plant

Here’s a closer image of the flowers. The closest match I could find was bluebells, but the shape doesn’t seem quite right. We contemplated that it might be a domesticated plant, but normally garden species aren’t so invasive. Ideas?

Day of the Triffids - Field Bindweed in the kitchen

Speaking of tenacious plants in my sister’s yard… She’s had a lot of trouble with Field Bindweed smothering her garden ornaments and other plants. Apparently this evening she opened the oven’s bottom drawer to get a pot and noticed a bit of plant stem. Thinking it must have fallen in at some point (the only reasonable explanation) she tried to pick it up, and it resisted.

Day of the Triffids - Field Bindweed in the kitchen

She pulled the stove out and discovered that the plant had managed to squeeze its way through a tiny hole in the floor where a hose came in, and, despite the near absence of light under the stove, had grown a few feet already. Aside from its somewhat sickly colour, it seemed to not be doing too badly under there! They’re contemplating setting up a trellis against the wall for it to grow up…

(all photos provided by my sister)

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13 responses to “Request for ID – purple-belled wildflower

  1. Could it be Creeping Bellflower?
    http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/creeping_bellflower.htm

    (I’m really enjoying your blog, by the way!)

    • I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog, Sue!
      Thanks for the suggestion. It does look a bit like bellflower, but I think Jackie (next comment) is correct that it’s Comfrey.

  2. That plant with dangling purplish bells is Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). This is an introduced species that is used in herbal medicine (I can’t remember what for) and it has coarse hairy leaves. Since its flowers can vary in color from white to yellow to purple, you may have looked in the wrong section of your flower guide. You can find it on page 188 of Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.

    Thanks for providing your readers with challenges. This is fun!

    • I would agree with that identification, Jackie. Thanks for your help! My sister will be interested to learn more about it – I found one website with a quick search that gave “10 reasons why Comfrey should be in every organic garden.” The species isn’t listed in either of my wildflower guides (I don’t have Newcomb’s), which would be why I couldn’t find it!

    • The comfrey in my area (Connecticut) has lighter pinkish blooms, more like the ones shown in our field guide. There’s a lot of variation in nature, isn’t there? That’s one of the marvelous aspects of our natural world.

      Comfrey speeds healing of cuts, bruises, etc. I’ve used it in a poultice or compress on minor wounds. It’s a relative of the forget-me-not, a reationship you can see in the curling stem.

      My first love is birds (many essays are at my blog), but I enjoy flowers too because, unline most birds, the flowers will sit still while I leaf through the field guide. :-)

      Your blog is a treasure, a marvel.

      • Thanks, Sarah! Yes, that is the great thing about plants – even when the birds and insects and other animals are being uncooperative, you can always count on a plant to sit still for you. They’re easy to find, too, if you’re looking for blog material.

        Thanks for the tips on uses for Comfrey, I’ll have to pass those on to my sister. Sounds like it’s fairly easy to take a cutting from, so I may have her dig me up some roots for my garden.

  3. Hysterical! I love the plant moving indoors through the oven. You don’t see that every day…

  4. OH, Jackie beat me to it! I just found your blog and when I saw the flowers (and leaves) I suspected comfrey. And wouldn’t you know my friend Jackie found your blog first and ID’d the plant first! Well…it’s nice to know I was right!

    • It amazes me how quickly my readers produce answers! I can almost guarantee to have a response within a couple hours of posting something. Thanks for swinging by, Ellen!

  5. I was wondering if you could help me on an ID. I posted to Bugguide with no takers. I am trying to catelog the critters that I see around our yard, pond and woods. I think this is a tussock moth larva… Care to take a look? –Michelle–
    unknown caterpillar

  6. Pingback: Request for ID – Fungus or egg mass? « the Marvelous in nature

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