common mullen (Verbascum thapsus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMON NAMES:
big taper
feltwort
common mullen
flannel mullein
velvet-plant
common mullein
mullein
flannel-leaf
woolly mullein
flannel plant
velvet plant
velvet dock
great mullein
velvet mullen

 

SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
Verbascum thapsus.

 

CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.

 

TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of common
mullein is Verbascum thapsus L. Common mullein is an imposing plant

with interesting foliage and form. The flowers seem small and inconspic-

uous in comparison with the rest of the plant. This is an easy plant to iden-

tify, although there are other Verbascum spp. (Mulleins) in Virginia that

have a similar appearance. Of these, only Verbascum phlomoides (orange

mullein) is known to occur in Facquier County. This latter species has

larger flowers (at least 1" across) that range in color from pale yellow to

orange-yellow. While common mullein has dense spikes of flowers, the

flowering spikes of orange mullein are more interrupted and less dense.

The leaves of orange mullein are less hairy and more green on the upper

surface, and its upper leaves are only slightly decurrent against the stem.

At one time, the dried stalks of common mullein were dipped in wax or

tallow and used as torches.

 

NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.

 

GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

 

Habit: During the 1st year, this adventive or introduced biennial plant

consists of a rosette of basal leaves about 1-2' across. During the 2nd

year, it becomes 3-7' tall and is usually unbranched. Occasionally, one

or two side stems may develop in the upper half of the plant. These

stems are covered with downy white hairs.

 

Leaves: The alternate leaves are up to 12" long and 4" across, becoming
progressively smaller and more narrow as they ascend the central stem.
They are obovate or oblong-ovate, smooth or slightly crenate along the
margins (which are sometimes wavy), and covered with fine downy hairs.
The lower leaves taper gradually to a narrow winged base, while the upper
leaves are partially decurrent against the stem. The dense branched hairs
provide the foliage with a color that is whitish or greyish green.

 

Flowers: The central stem terminates in a dense spike of flowers about

½–2' long. Each flower is about ¾" across and consists of 5 pale yellow

petals, 5 hairy green sepals, 5 stamens, and a pistil. The 3 upper stamens

are covered with white or yellow hairs, while the 2 lower stamens are hair-

less. Only a few flowers are in bloom at the same time.

 

Fruit/Seeds: Each flower is replaced by a seed capsule with 2 cells, each

cell containing numerous little seeds. The rectangular- oblong seeds have

fine wavy ridges and tiny pits across the surface. While the foliage withers

away, the central stalk and its seed capsules turn brown and persist through

the winter. The seeds are small enough to be carried aloft by the gusts of

wind that shake the central stalk.

 

Roots: The root system consists of a stout taproot that runs deep into the

ground.

 

REGENERATION PROCESS: Verbascum thapsus spreads by reseed-

ing itself.

 

HABITAT TYPES: Common mullen is native to Eurasia, and may have

been introduced into the United States as an herbal or ornamental plant.

Habitats include limestone glades, rocky slopes and clay banks, pastures

and fallow fields, areas along railroads and roadsides, vacant lots, and dry

waste areas. Disturbed areas are preferred.

 

SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Typical growing conditions are full sun
and mesic to dry soil that often contains clay or stony material. The foliage
is little bothered by pests and disease, although some of the lower leaves
may wither away during a drought. The seeds can lie dormant in the soil
for several decades and remain capable of germination.

 

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period usually occurs
during the summer (July to September) and lasts about 1½ months.

 

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common mullen is found through- out

the United States and most of the Canadian provinces (excepting the
northern territories).

 

SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.

 

IMPORTANCE AND USES: Bumblebees are the most important
pollinators of the flowers, where they seek nectar and pollen. Other
insect visitors, which seek pollen, include halictid bees and syrphid
flies. An unusual group of bees, consisting primarily of Anthidium

spp. (carder bees) in North America, use the fuzzy hairs from the fol-

iage as a water-proof lining in their nests. The seeds of great mullein

are too small to be of much interest to birds, while the hairy foliage

is avoided by mammalian herbivores. Both the foliage and the seeds
may contain toxic compounds.

 

 

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