Verbascum thapsus Properties

Versatile, fuzzy mullein is a gardener’s friend, an herbalist’s delight and an engineering marvel all on its own. A member of the snapdragon family, mullein has flowers that are flat and open, unlike the irregular “dragon faces” of snapdragons. Within the Scrophulariaceae family, the genus Verbascum consists of about 300 species native to Europe, West and Central Asia, and North Africa. Most are tall, stout biennials with large leaves and flowers in long terminal spikes. The species best-known among herbalists is the homely but useful common mullein, V. thapsus.

First-year plants form a rosette of large, velvety leaves up to 1 foot long. In the second year, a velvety flower spike grows to 8 feet tall. The stalk has alternate leaves that clasp the stem, a nifty arrangement that directs rainwater down the stem to the roots. From June to September, five-petaled yellow flowers 1/4 to 1 inch across bloom randomly in the dense, club-shaped terminal cluster. The three upper stamens, which are short and woolly, contain a sap that lures insects to the plant. The two lower stamens, which are longer and smooth, produce the pollen that fertilizes the flower.

Several mullein species with more attractive leaves or flowers are prized garden ornamentals. These include the moth mullein (V. blattaria), with light pink to white flowers; Olympic (or Greek) mullein (V. olympicum), with 8-foot branching stalks and golden yellow flowers; purple mullein (V. phoeniceum), a 3-foot perennial with long-blooming flowers; and nettle-leaf mullein (V. chaixii), with purple-centered yellow or white long-blooming flowers. Many beautiful and showy hybrids also have been developed.