Posts Tagged ‘Verbascum thapsus’


At the beginning of the week, we had some much-needed rain. Actually, we had a LOT of rain, with a heavy downpour on Wednesday. Consequently, I welcomed the sunny weather on Thursday, an absolutely beautiful fall day, and I couldn’t resist idling away part of the afternoon with a tour around the property. Here are some of the sights I saw.


Behind the house, the maple leaves are beginning to turning bright colours, although there is still a lot of green. Farther down the drive, the touch of red is provided by a Virginia Creeper vine that has entwined itself high in a tree.


I walked down the lane to the bridge over the little river. Today the flow was much more impressive than it was just a few days ago. Agricultural land along the river has drainage and trenching systems that mean rainwater is diverted into the river rapidly following a storm. As a result, the river flow swells quickly in response to wet weather. Presumably, this also contributes to the muddy appearance of the water.


Down by the water’s edge, there were a number of blue darners zipping about. Those darn darners! They never hold still to get their picture taken. I was lucky even to catch this guy in the photo frame. It is likely a Mosaic Darner, a member of the genus Aeshna, possibly a Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis). That would be appropriate.


Along the bank of the river, I noticed these mullein (Verbascum thapsus) rosettes. The fuzzy, felt leaves are the first-year growth of the biennial plant. Next year, they’ll put up a flower spike.


Across from the river and beside our property is a field planted in soybeans. They’ll be ready to harvest soon. Their summer green is gone and the field is a golden brown. Look at those clouds! One of the nice things about a flat, open landscape are the frequent displays of breathtaking skies. It’s like living in a seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. Only without the windmills.


This majestic Crimson King maple is beautiful in every season.


Hi Mousie! Hi Czarina! Hi Louis!


The field behind the barn is beautiful now as the long grass fades to a soft sandy brown and the seed heads catch the sunlight.


I didn’t notice the spider until I downloaded the photographs and spotted it, perhaps an Argiope species.


Down by the pond, it is much quieter than it was in the spring and summer. After I had stood by the water for a few minutes, however, I noticed a number of reddish dragonflies. One landed on my pants-leg, facing up towards me, and I noticed it had a white face. Then I saw that along the water there were a few dozen red dragonflies, all in pairs. They were dipping down to the water surface, rising up a foot or so, and then dipping down again. It appeared to be females laying eggs in the water with the males in tandem, contact guarding their mate. I was quite sure the dragonflies were White-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum obtrusum) until I got back to the house and checked my guide. Hmm. Problem. Both the males and females appeared red, while the females of meadowhawks are usually a dull olive-brown. It’s a mystery.


As I returned to the house I noticed a butterfly land on the arm of a lawn chair. There was a fair breeze, and it struggled mightily to get its sail-like wings under control.



Finally, it managed to settle on the chair arm with its wings flat and out of the wind. A Viceroy (Limenitis archippus).
Not without regret, I returned to the house to tackle more prosaic tasks.

Jan van Goyen: View of Rhenen, 1646

Jan van Goyen: View of Rhenen, 1646

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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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