Posts Tagged ‘Dark Mullein’


Here’s Joe Crow, perched before a backdrop of Verbascum nigrum, or Black (or Dark) Mullein. Just coming into full bloom now, Black Mullein is one of my favorite garden plants. Its large basal leaves are dark green, with small hairs that give the leaves a soft, velvety feel. They start out quite large near the earth, and grow smaller as they march up the stalk until they give way to flowers. Each flower is tiny, about half an inch across, but there are plenty of them as they densely line the stem. The flowers features yellow petals and purple filaments tipped with orange anthers. The tallest plants are a statuesque 5 1/2 feet in height. Verbascum nigrum is a biennial, but self-seeds freely, so there is always a good display of flowers.


Charming as they are, none of those features are what really draw me to verbascum nigrum, however. That would be the bees. They absolutely adore this plant. First thing in the morning, the flowers are alive with bees, getting on with their day’s work. I always take time to stand and admire them for a few minutes. They pay me no heed. They’re far too busy.

Here’s a short clip of the morning visitation.

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Bee on agastache

In the past week or two, the hydrangea bush has been a huge draw for bees and other pollinators. That’s not to say, however, that the pollinators aren’t visiting the rest of the garden. With the exception of daylilies, which I grow for their beautiful faces, I try to keep the birds and the bees in mind when choosing garden plants.

Bee on coneflower

It’s really the least one can do for them, considering what a heavy toll we take on their natural environment, one way and another.

Bee on astilbe

Pictured here are just a few of the garden flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.

Black swallowtail on monarda

Plants such as coreopsis and sunflowers and native grasses provide birds with a seed crop as well.

Bee on coreopsis

A selection of native plants is great, but I also have some non-natives that are very popular. By far the most bee-loved plant in the garden is Dark Mullein (verbascum nigrum). It is the European cousin of our native mullein. This biennial is short-lived, but seeds itself freely. In the spring, I noticed several large rosettes sprouting in a bare patch where I planted annuals last year.

The large leaves are rather weedy and course, but the rosettes expand at an amazing rate. I enjoyed watching the plants as they put out tall, stately flower stalks.

Each individual flower is quite small, but very colourful, with bright yellow petals setting off wine-pink centres and stamens. Once the flower stalks reach their blooming peak, they have a powerful presence in the garden.

At their peak, the flower stalks are hugely attractive to pollinators, especially bumblebees, who gather in large numbers each morning to collect the day’s bounty of nectar. No doubt, if they could vote, the bees would award Dark Mullein their “Pollinator’s Favorite” award. It is also pretty popular with the gardener.

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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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