Verbascum thapsus L.

 

by Sarah Steele, Native Plants of Arizona 2004

Common names: Common mullen, big taper, velvet dock, velvet plant, flannel-leaf (1,3).

Family: Scrophulariaceae (1)

Synonymy:
Etymology: Verbascum translates to “a name in Ply”.  Thapsus translates to “from the Island of

Thapsos”(5).

 

Identification

Growth form: Herbaceous biennial, noxious weed, up to 6 feet high (2,3).
Roots: Taprooted, shallow roots

Stem: Single erect stem 40-200 cm tall

Leaves: Grayish green, oblong, feltlike, grayish-haired; basal leaves in rosette; to 16” long,

shorter on stem, alternate (3).

Inflorescence/flowers: Stalk with yellow, with 5 slightly unequal lobes, 5 orange-tipped stamens;

to 1” wide; in tightly wedged, spike like cluster; to 20” long (3)

Fruit: capsules, broadly ovoid, woolly, 7-10 mm long

Similar species: Verbascum blattaria has bigger yellow flowers (sometimes white) with red-

orange anthers with purplish hairs on stamen filaments.  Leaves are dark green, lobed or toothed while V. thapsus has smaller yellow flowers with grayish green, oblong, feltlike leaves (3).

 

Ecology

Life history: Herbaceous biennial (2).

Native/introduced: Introduced into the United States (2).

Photosynthetic pathway:  C3

Phenology: June to September (3).

Distribution: Native range in Europe and Asia. Introduced into the U.S. in mid 1700’s and grows

where mean annual precipitation is greater than 3-6 inches and the growing season lasts for a minimum of 140 days.  Intolerant of shade, mullein will grow in almost any open area including natural meadows and forest openings as well as neglected pastures, road cuts, industrial areas.  Common mullein prefers, but is not limited to, dry sandy soils (3).

 

Uses

Seeds eaten by birds. Leaves used as wicks. Native Americans lined footwear with leaves for warmth. Various parts of plant used medicinally (3). May be used as toilet paper. Used as an herb for the lungs and throat, mild sedative to lungs, useful in initial stages of infection, used as a smoke to relax spasmodic coughing, useful earache oil, root is a diuretic and urinary tract astringent (4).

 

References

1.     Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (http://www.itis.usda.gov).

 

2.     USDA, NRCS.  2002.  The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5.  (http://plants.usda.gov). 

        National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70874-4490 USA.

 

3.     Epple, A. O.  1995.  A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona.  Falcon Publishing.  Helena Montana.

 

4.       Moore, M. 1979. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain  West. 1st Ed. Museum of New Mexico  

Press. Sante Fe, New Mexico. 112-113.

 

5.       Gledhill, D. 2002. The Names of Plants. #rd Edition. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge,  England.


© Charles A. Washburn