OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312



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Verbascum flowers


Verbascum thapsus

Verbascum in the early sources

Description    Propagation    Cultivation    Harvest

Verbascum thapsus

Verbascum is derived from barbascum, beard, and refers to the furry leaves of the plant

Thapsus was first used as part of the plant's name by Theophrastus, and refers to the ancient city of Thapsus in Sicily.

Common names,

Adam's flannel, beggar's blanket, candlewick plant, common mullein, flannel mullein, flannel plant, great mullein, hag taper, hedge candle, Jupiter's staff, molene, mullein, moth mullein, velvet dock, velvet plant, woolly mullein

The plant's most frequently used common name, mullein, comes from the Latin mollis, soft.

The plant was also believed to repel evil spirits, and was used by Odysseus to protect against Circe's spells. Its toxic juice kills fish, a property known to fishermen since the time of Aristotle. The flowers produce a yellow or green dye; the dried leaves were twisted and used as wicks; and the tall, strong flower stalks were dried, dipped into fat or wax, and used as torches, which is the reason that this plant is also known as hag taper and hedge candle. It is an introduced plant in the Americas, and was in used by the 1700s in Virginia as a piscicide or fish toxin.



Verbascum thapsus in its second year


Verbascum thapsus is a biennial plant that forms a low rosette in its first year, then sends up a tall flowering stalk in its second season.

Cold hardiness

Hardy to zone 3; frost tolerant


3-6' tall by 3-4' wide at the base

Verbascum in it's first year


In its first summer, mullein forms a 14-24" wide basal rosette of thick, wooly leaves, and sends down a deep taproot. In its second year, a tall flower stalk shoots up from this rosette, and bears small, butter-yellow flowers.

Verbascum flowers


Five-petaled flowers are borne on a tall stalk that shoots up in the plant's second year. Flowers last for only a day, opening before light and closing in the afternoon. Blossoms are about 1" wide, and bloom several at a time, in spirals from bottom to top, from June to October. If the central stalk is broken, blooming side stalks will often appear, candelabra-style, just above the break.

The flowers are hermaphroditic (have both male and female organs); any flowers that haven't been fertilized (by a variety of long- and short-tongued bees) by the end of the day will fertilize themselves.

After fertilization a two-chambered seed capsule forms, containing many small seeds. Mullein is a happy self-seeder, but is not overly invasive in the garden because seeds don't germinate well unless they are in bare soil in full sun. Seeds are very long-lived in the soil; archeologists have found viable seed in soil samples dating to 1300 CE.


Leaves are alternate, very soft and downy, and have a silvery appearance. In the first season, the leaves in the rosette are 6-8" long and 2-3" wide. In the second year, leaves will be as much as 12-18" long by 4-6" across, and are largest near the base of the plant, becoming smaller further up the stem.

By seed

Each mullein plant produces thousands of small, rough seeds, of which 90% will fall within 15' of the parent plant. Seeds are more likely to germinate if they have passed through cold temperatures, so plant outside in the fall, or if you will be starting seeds inside, stratify before sowing.

By transplanting

It is easy to transplant volunteer rosettes in the spring. Dig deep to capture all of the taproot, plant in full sun, and water well to settle soil around roots. Water weekly until transplants show new growth.

Germination temperature

50-90 degrees

Germination time

7-21 days


Though drought tolerant, mullein will be taller and stronger if given water during dry spells.


Requires light to germinate; sow on top of soil or cover very lightly.



Can grow in very alkaline soils; requires excellent drainage.


Does well in dry soils.


Strongly prefers full sun.

Natural habitat

A "pioneer" plant, mullein is one of the first plants to appear in ground that has been disturbed or burned over. Grows in pastures and rough fields, dry waste areas, gravel banks, along railroads and roadsides, vacant lots; likes well-lit, disturbed soils.


Does well in sunny location that is well-drained.


May harbor some diseases, including cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew.


Host to at least 25 different insect families, including mullein thrips, mullein moth, some beneficial predatory mites, tarnished plant bug, some spider mites. Because it harbors both pests and beneficials, may be useful in maintaining balance in the garden.

Season to bloom/

Flowers from June to August; the taller the flowering stalk, the longer the flowering period.

Seed collection

Seeds ripen in early to mid fall.


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