Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Beautiful purple flowers bear more than a passing resemblance to their cousins the Virginia Bluebells. Comfrey is a European import brought here as part of the herbalist’s basic tool kit. It was used to treat digestive problems, but it contains poisons that could kill you, though you might die with excellent digestion. It has also been used as an ointment for treating wounds, but applying it to broken skin can also get the poison into your system. So perhaps it’s best just to enjoy the beauty of the flowers, and leave medicine to the pill peddlers.
Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare). Easily recognized by its columns of vivid blue flowers; seen most often beside railroads or along roadsides. This is certainly one of our most decorative weeds. Once in a while a plant will appear with pink flowers, usually fading to blue after they have been open for a while.
Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides). The “true” Forget-Me-Not is a European import that makes itself at home along brooks and streams. Its flowers are famously blue, but also found sometimes in pink shades. The species name “scorpioides” refers to the curled flower stems, which are typical of the family.
Smaller Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis laxa). This is a miniature version of the common Forget-Me-Not (M. scorpioides), very similar except for the size. It is normally found near streams, but it seems to be more and more common in the city.
Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla). Siberian Bugloss looks very much like a species of Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sp.), but is easily distinguished by its large heart-shaped leaves (thus the specific name macrophylla, which means “large-leaved”). It is not recorded as growing wild in the Pittsburgh area, but it seems to be naturalized in the woods of Bird Park, Mount Lebanon.
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica). The distinctive arch of the stem marks this as a member of the borage or forget-me-not family. Virginia bluebells bloom in late April and early May in open woodlands and shady moist areas. They are, as the name suggests, commonly blue. But in a large patch you may find other colors occasionally as well: pale lavender, pink, pale purple, and pure white.
Beggar’s Lice (Hackelia virginiana). This is one of those hitchhiker plants that spread themselves by sticking to your clothes, or to animals’ fur. The flowers grow on indefinitely long stems, one flower blooming at a time, with a cluster of buds dangling beneath the open flower, and developing seedpods in a line down the stem.