Does anyone have any idea what this is? It looks too substantial to be a weed

Large veiny leafed plant with purple stalks Close-up of large veiny leafed plant with purple stalks Close-up of underside of large veiny leaf

  • 7
    "Substantial" doesn't have anything to do with it being a weed: A weed is any unwanted plant in the wrong place! :-)
    – winwaed
    Jul 25, 2011 at 23:58
  • 1
    @Dan, I totally agree with "winwaed's" above comment. Your mystery unwanted plant has me stumped (at the moment). I'm currently thinking along the lines of: The stems (stalks) almost look like they belong in the Rhubarb family, & the leaves belong in the Mint family or Dock family.
    – Mike Perry
    Jul 26, 2011 at 4:42
  • @Dan, is it soft & furry to touch?
    – Mike Perry
    Jul 26, 2011 at 21:24
  • Certainly agree it looks like it belongs in the mint family, Lamiaceae, and I feel sure I've seen just this weed around the place, but don't know even its common name. Leaf underside in particular is so similar to the mint I grow in a pot which has a purple tinge. But then the bushiness of the stalks (lack of main stem) make it look all wrong for Lamiaceae. I'm really not sure.
    – Lisa
    Jul 27, 2011 at 8:04

5 Answers 5


From "gardening experts" on twitter I've currently got a two-way tie on what your plant could be:

  1. Member of Lamiaceae family, most likely Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  2. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).

Warning, Foxglove - Noteworthy Characteristics:

Plant leaves are a source of the drug digitalis and are highly poisonous.

  • If it's Clary sage, the leaves should smell aromatic when crushed & the face of them should feel hairy (furry) to the touch.

  • If it's Foxglove the leaves will feel soft to the touch.

The "gardening experts" on twitter all agree with, if you let it flower it will make identification 100%.

  • So both will flower at some point? And then that will give me a better idea?
    – Dan
    Jul 28, 2011 at 8:50
  • @Dan: It it's a foxglove (and it does look like one), it may not flower this year - and we'll all be waiting with baited breath to identify it ;) Foxgloves spend the first year producing foliage and stems, and flower in their second year.. Jul 28, 2011 at 11:32
  • @Dan, both of them should flower within a month of each other. If they haven't flowered yet (or very soon), they won't flower until May next year (at the earliest).
    – Mike Perry
    Jul 28, 2011 at 15:42
  • The leaves are furry, but the pictures of Clary Sage dont look like this plant IMO, and it seems the Clary Sage is a much taller plant?
    – Dan
    Jul 28, 2011 at 21:34
  • 2
    I'm gunning strongly for Foxglove, which has a perfect visual match on the leaf (i.e. glossy and floppy, my highly technical terms, instead of furry and erect). See picture from Wikipedia which I call a match: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/91/…
    – Lisa
    Aug 2, 2011 at 14:07

The plant in your photos has leaves which seem identical to those of Green Alkanet (Pentaglossis sempervirens) which has hairy (furry) basal leaves with purplish stalks:

Perennial, member of the Boraginaceae Family. Native to south-west France, and the Iberian Peninsula, but is now naturalised throughout the British Isles. Prefers shaded, damp areas. It was brought here for the red dye which can be extracted from the roots, but escaped from cultivation. The leaves are rough and covered with hairs. The lower leaves in the basal rosette have no stalks, but the upper ones on the stems have stalks. The stems can reach up to 75 cm.

The bright blue, forget-me-not-like flowers appear from April to July and arise from the upper leaf axils in clusters with two small leaves behind them. They are edible and are sometimes used to decorate salads.

Green Alkanet

There are quite a few of these plants growing under hedgerows, by the roadside and in neglected gardens in Manchester, where I live (see photos), and they have just finished flowering.

As Green Alkanet has basal leaves that are almost indistinguishable from those of the Foxglove, we shan't know which of the two (if either) your plant is, until it produces flowers; if it hasn't already done so, it is likely to be a foxglove, since this is a biennial. If it has now flowered, perhaps you could post a photo, so that we can confirm its identity.

Green Alkanet - one or two still flowering in background

Green Alkanet

  • Those leaves look flatter and more waxy.
    – Dan
    Oct 8, 2011 at 22:50

It is worth considering that it might also be Comfrey. Here's are a couple of images of comfrey from Wikipedia that show the similarity of the leaves with your plant.


Its Digitalis (foxglove). It doesn't have the hairiness of one of the Borage family, although its easy to confuse the two before they flower - the way to tell is by touch. Borage feels unpleasant to handle, Foxglove doesn't, being soft. I suspect it was planted deliberately - it is surrounded by Lamium maculatum and the blue flower appears to be Tradescantia - all these are used in the UK for shade planting.


It looks like Sea Holly to me - Eryngium (perhaps Eryngium Planum?)


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