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Common Mullein

Common Name: Common Mullein.

Scientific Name: Verbascum Thapsus.

What to look for?  The Common Mullein is biennial and grows from a basal rosette that sends up a flower spike during the second year. First year growth is a rosette of oblong, whitish green decurrent leaves (leaves that partially wrap around stems and grow down or along the stems). The second-year growth is an unbranched, tall, erect stem that is hard to miss, with leaves tapering in size toward the top of the stalk. The inflorescence is a densely packed spike of tiny yellow 5-petaled flowers at the top of the stem. The flowers appear to open from the bottom upward in several spiral rows; each flower is only open for one day, then the one above opens. The flower spike elongates as the growing season progresses. The leaves spiral up the stem such that the shorter upper leaves shed water onto subsequent lower leaves and directing the water to the roots. Common mullein forms fibrous roots and a deep taproot.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? These Common Mullein were found in the restored prairie at Stonegate West.

How big are they? During its second year, the Common Mullein is typically seven (7) feet or taller. The oblong leaves are approximately twelve (12) inches long and four (4) inches across.

Where do they grow and thrive? Common Mullein is a common plant that occurs across Illinois, all of the U.S., and southern Canada This plant is native to Eurasia and Africa, and it may have been introduced into the United States as an herbal or ornamental plant. Common Mullein is usually found in disturbed areas such as railroads, roadsides, fence rows, old fields, pastures, and agronomic fields.

When do they bloom? The blooming period of the Common Mullein usually occurs during the summer and lasts about 1½ months. Some research notes a relationship between stalk length and blooming - if taller, it may bloom into October. (Note: additional photos of Common Mullein in bloom will be uploaded later this summer and fall).

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? Bumblebees are the most important pollinators of the flowers, where they seek nectar and pollen. Otherwise, the Common Mullein is not of much interest or use by birds or wildlife.

Interesting Facts About the Common Mullein:

  • Several states have elevated Common Mullein from a common weed to an invasive plant, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and all western states.

  • The problem with Common Mullein is that it is an incredibly prolific seed producer - produces over 100,000 seeds, which persist in the seed bank for decades.

  • Leaves of common mullein have been used as lamp wicks and Romans used plants dipped in fat as torches - hence the common name "Candlewick Plant."

  • The leaves spiral up the stem such that the shorter upper leaves shed water onto subsequent lower leaves - all to direct the water to the roots.

  • The genus ‘Verbascum’ was likely derived from 'barbascum', which is Latin meaning bearded plant; and the species ‘thapsus’ is probably after Thapsusin in ancient Africa.

  • The common name Mullein comes from the Latin "mollis", meaning "soft".

  • Common Mullein is referred to by dozens of names, including beggar's blanket, blanket leaf, devil's-tobacco, great mullein, old man's flannel, and velvet dock, among others.

For more information on the Common Mullein and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, Friends of the Wildflower Garden, and Michigan State University Integrated Pest Management.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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