Northern Wild Comfrey

Andersonglossum boreale (Fernald) Jim.Mejías, J.I. Cohen & Naczi

Cynoglossum virginianum var. boreale
Sandy Bonanno

Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
Boraginaceae (Borage Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled or Imperiled in New York - Especially or very vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors; typically 20 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or steep declines. More information is needed to assign either S1 or S2.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Apparently or Demonstrably Secure globally - The subspecies/variety is uncommon to common in the world, but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either T4 or T5. (The species as a whole is common globally.)


Did you know?

The genus name Cynoglossum is from the Greek "cynos", of a dog, and "glossa", tongue, refers to the rough, tongue-shaped leaf. The European Hound's-tongue, a close relative, was believed in ancient times to heal the bite of dogs and to keep dogs from barking. Our native wild comfrey has been used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.

State Ranking Justification

There are only three known populations today, although two dozen or more may have been present in the past. The range appears to be retracting northward, but the precise reason for this is not known. More surveys should be conducted in and around the Adirondack region as well as within the Catskills.

Short-term Trends

In the early 1900s, there were probably two dozen or more populations of this plant scattered around the state. Today, there are only three known populations and all of these are in the northern portion of the state. None of the historical populations present south of the Adirondack region are known today.

Long-term Trends

Between 1850 and 1900, there were a minimum of 20 populations of this plant. Between 1900 and 1950, a minimum of 22 were reported, so over this one hundred year period, the plant's trend was stable. Since 1950, only six populations have been reported and only three are known today. This indicates a dramatic change over this period and a rather rapid decline in a short period of time.

Conservation and Management


Although the Valcour Island population is not threatened, the plant has obviously declined in New York for unknown reasons. Maybe this plant is impacted by global warming as the populations appear to be retracting northward.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

The management needs are not well understood at this point. This plant may do well in areas that receive small amounts of disturbance.

Research Needs

Research is needed to determine why this species has declined so rapidly within New York and throughout much of the southern portion of its range. More work is also needed on its habitat requirements and management needs.



This plant may be found along the borders of woods and thickets, along trails and pathways through woods, and within upland deciduous woods. It appears to prefer circumneutral or even calcareous areas. The soils are usually sandy or rocky (New York Natural Heritage Program 2005). Rare in open woods and roadsides (Rhoads and Block 2000). Borders, openings, and clearings or under dense shade in coniferous or mixed woods (fir, cedar, spruce, pine, birch, aspen, and occasionally beech and maple), especially in sandy or rocky soil (Voss 1996). Uplands woods (Gleason & Cronquist 1991). Rich woods and thickets (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Beech-maple mesic forest* (guide)
    A hardwood forest with sugar maple and American beech codominant. This is a broadly defined community type with several variants. These forests occur on moist, well-drained, usually acid soils. Common associates are yellow birch, white ash, hop hornbeam, and red maple.
  • Limestone woodland* (guide)
    A woodland that occurs on shallow soils over limestone bedrock in non-alvar settings, and usually includes numerous rock outcrops. There are usually several codominant trees, although one species may become dominant in any one stand.
  • Successional northern hardwoods
    A hardwood or mixed forest that occurs on sites that have been cleared or otherwise disturbed. Canopy trees are usually relatively young in age (25-50 years old) and signs of earlier forest disturbance are often evident. Characteristic trees and shrubs include any of the following: quaking aspen, big-tooth aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, gray birch, pin cherry, black cherry, red maple, and white pine.
  • Unpaved road/path*
    A sparsely vegetated road or pathway of gravel, bare soil, or bedrock outcrop. These roads or pathways are maintained by regular trampling or scraping of the land surface. The substrate consists of the soil or parent material at the site which may be modified by the addition of local organic material (woodchips, logs, etc.) or sand and gravel. Abandoned railroad beds where tracks have been removed are included here. One characteristic plant is path rush.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
  • Actaea pachypoda (white baneberry, doll's-eyes)
  • Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)
  • Betula papyrifera (paper birch)
  • Brachyelytrum erectum (southern shorthusk)
  • Oryzopsis asperifolia (spreading white grass)
  • Schizachne purpurascens (false melic grass)
  • Solidago caesia


New York State Distribution

Historically, this plant was found throughout New York. Today, it appears to be restricted to the northern portions of the state. New York is near the southern edge of the range, and this range may be retracting northward.

Global Distribution

This plant is widespread in Canada and is also found in the northern United States from Maine to South Dakota, although it may be becoming increasingly rare within the northern United States.

Identification Comments

General Description

This is a perennial wildflower that grows 1-2 feet high. The leaves at the base of the plant are 4-8 inches long and oval-shaped, with long petioles and a rough surface. They are 1-3 inches wide. There are also a few leaves on the flowering stems which are more lance-shaped. The upper leaves have heart-shaped bases that clasp the stem, the lower ones have short petioles. At the top of the leafless portion of the stem are a few branches with a group of small, 3/8" wide, five-petaled, blue flowers at the ends. The petal lobes are oblong and do not overlap. The fruit consists of four bristly nutlets.

Identifying Characteristics

This boraginaceous plant has large petioled leaves that are 3-8 cm broad. The calyx at the time of flowering is 2-2.5 mm wide and the blue corolla is 5-8 mm wide. The corolla lobes are oblong, but do not overlap one another. The nutlets are 3.5-5 mm.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

A plant in flower or fruit is needed for proper identification. Since there are two closely related varieties, a specimen should be collected to allow for later verification. A complete habitat description would be helpful as we are trying to learn more about this plant's habitat requirements.

Similar Species

Cynoglossum virginianum var. virginianum has large petioled leaves that are 5-11 cm broad. The calyx at the time of flowering is 3.5-4.5 mm long. The corolla is 1-1.2 cm broad, and pale lilac to white. The nutlets are 5.5-7 mm long. This plant is mostly restricted to southeastern New York, although a few disjunct populations have been reported from central New York. Hound's-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is a European species introduced here and is now weedy. It is larger and more leafy with reddish-purple flowers. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is the old world Comfrey that has escaped cultivation. It has whitish, yellowish, or dull purple, bell like flowers only flaring slightly at the end. The leaves run down and merge gradually with the winged stem.

Best Time to See

The small blue flowers of this plant begin to appear mid-May and persist into early July, but plants with fruit may be found until the first frost. The prickly fruits easily latch onto passing animals and people. Surveys are probably best conducted when this plant is in flower, but successful surveys may be conducted at any point during the growing season.

  • Vegetative
  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Northern Wild Comfrey vegetative, flowering, and fruiting in New York.

Northern Wild Comfrey Images


Northern Wild Comfrey
Andersonglossum boreale (Fernald) Jim.Mejías, J.I. Cohen & Naczi

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
        • Order Lamiales
          • Family Boraginaceae (Borage Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Northern Hound's-tongue
  • Wild Comfrey


  • Cynoglossum boreale Fern.
  • Cynoglossum virginianum var. boreale (Fern.) Cooperrider

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Gleason, Henry A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Canada.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Rhoads, Ann F. and Timothy A. Block. 2000. The Plants of Pennsylvania, an Illustrated Manual. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA.

Voss, E.G. 1996. Michigan Flora. Part III. Dicots (Pyrolaceae-Compositae). Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 61 and Univ. Michigan Herbarium. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 622 pp.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, New York


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: June 22, 2005

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Andersonglossum boreale. Available from: Accessed June 21, 2024.