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Monday, August 25


The Common Mullein, or verbascum thapsus, was introduced to my front yard by a friend who referred to it as the "Grand Wizard of the Ontario Roadside".  His attempts at cultivation were unsuccessful, however, many years later this spectacular example of the species sprouted.  

Turns out the tiny seeds can remain in the soil for up to a hundred years, often sprouting after a forest fire or a clearing of other vegetation.  The plant is biennial, producing a rosette of soft and hairy leaves the first year, followed by the tall stalk of yellow flowers the subsequent summer. The plant usually dies after this display, scattering almost a quarter million seeds.

Mullein has been used for medicinal reasons for over 2000 years.  It is most effective against afflictions of the lungs such as consumption, croup and coughs. The yellow flowers can be used to create a yellow or green dye and the stalk can be soaked in wax to create a torch.  

Imported to North America in the early 1800's, Mullein quickly spread to all states and southern Canada.  In some regions it carries the vernacular name "Cowboy's toilet paper".  Driving north, you can see Common Mullein along the road and the further you drive, the shorter the stalks. None of these northern brothers can rival the 9' monster dominating my yard, impressive enough to entice a woodpecker:


  1. One of these grew in my garden this summer. I was intrigued by the early foliage and then BAMMMMMMM GIANT STALK WITH YELLOW FLOWERS, WHERE DID YOU COME FROM HOLY CRAAAAAP!!!!. Now it has died, but I am glad I was relaxed enough with my outdoor area to let this wonder show itself off against the drab cement building at the back of my yard. Thanks for profiling it.