Plant Common Name
Commonly known as mullein, the genus Verbascum is comprised of approximately 300 species of mainly biennial plants and a few are annuals and perennials. They are naturally distributed across Europe and Asia with the largest number of species found in the Mediterranean, though many have become naturalized in North America. Generally, they are large stout plants with fuzzy, wooly leaves and large spikes of showy flowers. Mulleins have long cultivated for their beauty and utility. The leaves of some species were used medicinally, as candle wicks and even to line shoes.
In spring, verbascums produce basal rosettes of broad leaves that may be simple or lobed with smooth or scalloped edges. In the second or third year, mulleins produce one or more tall leafy flower stalks. The cup-shaped flowers have five spreading petals and may be white, purple, pink or yellow. Cultivated varieties come in a wider array of colors. The fruits are capsules that split open to expel lots of tiny conical seeds.
There are many ornamental mullein species for the garden. The Mediterranean olympic mullein (Verbascum olympicum) is a sturdy plant with intensely hairy silver leaves and candelabra-like spires lined with bright yellow blooms. The Eurasian Purple mullein ( Verbascum phoeniceum) produces dark green leaves and showy branched spikes of variably-hues blooms in shades of white, pink and violet. Cultivars like the apricot and purple ‘Sierra Sunset’ or rosy plum ‘Plum Smokey’ are certainly the most garden worthy of all.
Hardiness and culture are species specific. Most mulleins prefer sunny locations and grow best in well-drained soil. Poor soils produce sturdy tough plants, while more fertile, rich soils produce softer, larger plants that often require support. Once mulleins flower, most die. They are easily propagated by seed and have a tendency to self-sow if the flower stalks are left to mature. Large hybrid mulleins are stately plants that add a vertical element to the garden. They area bit old-fashioned, so they’re ideally suited to cottage gardens and informal, borders. Some smaller, Mediterranean species are perfect for rock gardens.
Many mullien species, such as the common mullein (Verbascum thapsus, have escaped from cultivation and become distributed across North America. In addition to being invasive, there are potential health concerns with the seeds and leaves of Verbascum. Check out these links to learn more: http://www.nps.gov/plants/ALIEN/fact/veth1.htm and http://2bnthewild.com/plants/H195.htm