moth mullen (Verbascum blattaria)
white moth mullein
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of moth mullen
is Verbascum blattaria L. This is a variable species with attractive flow-
ers and unattractive foliage. There are two basic color forms: plants that
produce yellow flowers, and those that produce white flowers. The com-
mon name refers to the fancied resemblance of the flowers to moths.
Moth mullein often produces a spike-like raceme of flowers of exception-
al length, considering the size of the plant. It has a very different appear-
ance from Verbascum thaspum (great mullein), although they are both tall-
growing and spike-like. Great mullein has less showy yellow flowers, and
its leaves are larger in size and covered with fuzzy white hairs.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This introduced biennial plant is 2-4' tall and either unbranched or sparingly branched. The central stem is stout, ribbed, and usually glabrous
beneath the inflorescence.
Leaves: The basal leaves of 1st-year plants form a low-growing rosette
about 8-12" across. During the second year, this species bolts upward with
alternate leaves along the flowering stems. They are up to 6" long and 2½"
across, becoming smaller as they ascend the stems. The leaves of these
2nd-year plants are broadly lanceolate with margins that are coarsely
crenate or dentate. Sometimes the margins are slightly undulate and ir-
regular. The lower leaves strongly clasp the stems, while the upper leaves
near the inflorescence are more likely to be sessile. The upper surface of
each leaf is wrinkled along the veins and hairless.
Flowers: The central stem and upper side stems (if any) terminate in tall
spike-like racemes of flowers about ½2' in length. The stalks of these ra-
cemes are glandular hairy. Each flower spans up to 1" across, consisting
of 5 spreading petals, 5 stamens, a hairy green calyx with 5 pointed lobes,
and a single pistil with a green stigma. The petals are usually white or pale
yellow, and they often have purplish pink or greenish brown tints on the
surface facing the calyx. The center of the flower has fine purple hairs
around the stamens and the base of the petals are often some shade of pur-
ple or pink. The pedicel of each flower is about ½" long, and there is a
tapering green bract of about the same length at its base.
Fruit/Seeds: Each flower is replaced by a round capsule containing numer-
Roots: The root system consists of a stout taproot.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Moth mullen spreads by reseeding itself.
HABITAT TYPES: Moth mullen originated from Eurasia. Habitats in-
clude pastures, abandoned fields, vacant lots, irregularly mowed lawns,
areas along roadsides and railroads, and gravel bars along rivers. It prefers
highly disturbed areas and is not invasive of natural areas to any significant degree.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Moth mullen is an adaptable plant that
usually grows in full sunlight, moist to dry conditions, and rather poor
soil that contains gravel or clay. In dry poor soil, this plant can be rather
small, while at sites with fertile soil and more moisture it can become
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period usually occurs
during the summer, and lasts about 1-2 months.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Moth mullen is found throughout most
of the United States and much of Canada (the major exception being
the Great Plains regions of central Canada).
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The pollen of the flowers is collected by
bumblebees and halictid bees. Syrphid flies feed on the pollen, but they
are probably not effective at pollination. Little information appears to be
available about this species' relationships to birds and mammals.
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Sky Meadows Park
Crooked Run Valley