Verbascum thapsus L. - Mullein

Verbascum thapsus plant

Family - Scrophulariaceae

Stems - To +2m tall at anthesis, from stout taproot, herbaceous, densely stellate pubescent, winged by decurrent leaf tissue, erect, sometimes branching at inflorescence.

Leaves - First years leaves in a basal rosette to +1m in diameter but typically less. Blades entire to crenate to crenate-dentate, to 75cm long, 15cm broad, oblong to narrowly obovate, tapering at base, rounded or subacute at apex, dense stellate pubescent (soft to the touch), with prominent veins below. Margins often undulate. Cauline leaves becoming oblanceolate, sessile, reduced upwards, with tissue decurrent and undulate.

Verbascum thapsus leafAdaxial leaf surface.

Verbascum thapsus leaf Abaxial leaf surface.

Verbascum thapsus basalsFirst season basal rosette.

Inflorescence - Indeterminate dense terminal spike to 1m tall (long). Foliaceous to scalelike bracts subtending flowers. Bracts equaling or longer than calyx, dense stellate pubescent.

Verbascum thapsus inflorescence

Flowers - Corolla yellow, zygomorphic, 5-lobed, +/-2.5cm broad. Corolla tube to +/-8mm long. Lobes rounded, stellate pubescent externally, glabrous internally. Stamens 5(3+2), alternating with corolla lobes, adnate on basal half of corolla tube, the upper 3 shorter than the lower 2. Filaments yellow, to 1.1cm long, villous mostly in upper half (hairs fewer and secund on lower two stamens). Anthers orange, 2mm long. Style green, mostly glabrous but with some hairs at base, -1cm long. Stigma capitate. Ovary superior, stellate pubescent to tomentose, 2-locular. Placentation axile. Ovules many. Calyx accrescent, 5-lobed, dense stellate pubescent. Tube to 2mm long. Lobes 5-6mm long, 2-3mm broad at base, lance-acuminate. Capsule to 1cm long, broadly ovoid, stellate pubescent, many-seeded, with persistent style.

Verbascum thapsus flowers

Flowering - May - September.

Habitat - Pastures, fields, waste ground, disturbed sites, roadsides, railroads.

Origin - Native to Europe.

Other info. - This common plant was one of the first, if not the first, introduced plants from Europe to North America. In Carravaggio's painting "Saint John the Baptist", (painted ~1604AD), V. thapsus is painted at the feet of John the Baptist. Incidentally, this painting is displayed in Kansas City at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.
V. thapsus is unmistakable in the field. The fuzzy leaves and long flowering spikes can't be missed. The plant is common throughout Missouri.
Traditionally V. thapsus has been used to cure headaches, fevers, cramps, burns, and a host of other ailments (including cold feet). The plant does contain coumarins and other toxins so it should be used wisely.

Photographs taken at the Kansas City Zoo, 7-17-99, in Brown Summit, NC., 6-17-02, and at the Springfield Nature Center, Springfield, MO., 7-5-03.


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