Archive for August 19th, 2009


Common Mullein, sometimes called Great Mullein, or Verbascum thapsus is one of my favorite wildflowers. The plants were first introduced to North America from Europe in the 1700s as a medicinal herb. It can now be found across the continent. Its most appealing features are its tall, narrow profile, and its large, fuzzy grey leaves. As a biennial, the plant takes 2 years to complete its life cycle. In its first year, it makes its appearance as a low-growing ring of large, felt-like leaves. In its second year, a tall, narrow stalk shoots up, sometimes reaching 2 metres in height. The main flower stem is covered in small, yellow flowers that go on to produce thousands of tiny seeds. There are sometimes a few smaller flower stalks branching from the base of the main flower stem, candelabra-style.

Mullein has been put to many uses. The large, fuzzy leaves have been used as diapers, toilet paper, and even as insoles for shoes. The tall, thick stalks have been dipped in melted fat and burned as torches. Many therapeutic properties have been claimed for infusions made from the plant and it has been used to help with congestion, headache, coughing and other cold-related symptoms.

A few volunteer plants used to seed themselves in my last garden, and I usually left them to act as interesting accent plants.

verbascum 2

Verbascums are also grown as garden plants and can often be purchased at nurseries. There are a number of interesting cultivars, including Verbascum “Buttercup”, which grows just a foot tall, or Verbascum “Caribbean Crush”, which is described in one catalogue as having “riotous candles of mango to burnt orange flowers”. Who could resist? There is an unnamed verbascum growing in the garden that I inherited here. My best guess is that it is Verbascum nigrum, or Dark Mullein, which also grows wild in some parts of the continent. Cultivated verbascums are generally more floriferous than their escapee cousins, and lack the wooly leaves.

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