Mulleins

Dark Mullein Hungarian Mullein Moth Mullein Orange Mullein

What are they?

The mulleins are a distinctive group of plants in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). They are rather variable, but most have relatively large leaves and grow as biennials, the second year seeing the appearance of a tall flower spike from a basal rosette of leaves, rather in the manner of a foxglove plant. We have one or two native species, but many are introduced from mainland Europe, having originated as garden introductions.

Where are they found?

These are mostly generalists of open, sunny, grassy places and sometimes field edges and disturbed ground. Introduced species may be found on undeveloped or waste ground.

Identification

Although most species are relatively easy to identify, one or two are rather similar, while the biggest problem comes from hybridisation, which is common in this genus. Careful attention to a suite of characters should identify most individuals, but anything showing a mixture of characters is likely to be a hybrid. Characters to check include: flower spike single or branched; leaf hairiness; attachment of the leaf bases to the stem; colour of hairs on the stamens.



Great Mullein      Verbascum thapsus

Native and by far the commonest species throughout most of the region, growing in all kinds of open places, including field edges, waste ground and coastal habitats. Flowers June to August. Stems grow up to two metres in height with the flower spike usually being unbranched (though damaged stems may form a few side branches). Flowers relatively small and often only half opening; deeper yellow than those of other species. Stamen hairs white or pale yellow; stigma with a rounded knob on the end (not spatula-shaped). Upper stem leaves have prominent, winged bases that run down the length of the stem to at least the next leaf. Leaves are rather thick and quite stiff, and densely covered in star-shaped hairs.

Great Mullein Great Mullein Great Mullein Great Mullein
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Flower detail
Great Mullein Great Mullein
Basal leaves
Stem leaf bases


Hoary Mullein      Verbascum pulverulentum

Of uncertain origin, perhaps native, perhaps introduced as most plants grow in disturbed and man-made habitats such as roadsides, railway sidings and abandoned pits and quarries. Very locally-distributed, but common where it occurs, mostly around Norwich, Gfreat Yarmouth, north-west Norfolk and west of Bury St Edmunds. Flowers July to August. Stems grow up to two metres in height with the flower spike bearing long side branches like a candelabra. Flowers medium-sized, opening fully; pale yellow. Stamen hairs whitish. Upper stem leaves not winged at the base. A useful character is that the hairs wear off and cluster together in distinctive balls of fluff.

Hoary Mullein Hoary Mullein Hoary Mullein Hoary Mullein
Habit
Flower detail
Basal leaves
Stem leaf bases


Orange Mullein      Verbascum phlomoides

Introduced from Europe and scattered in a few places on waste ground, being perhaps most common in our area in south-east Suffolk. Flowers June to August. A very showy species, with relatively large, fully open flowers with broad petals; stamens with yellow hairs, hairless towards the base. Flower spike usually with short side branches in the upper stem leaf bases. Stem leaves with shortly winged bases, only just running into the stem. Leaves softly downy all over.

Orange Mullein Orange Mullein Orange Mullein Orange Mullein
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Flower detail
Orange Mullein Orange Mullein
Basal leaf
Stem leaf bases


Dense-flowered Mullein      Verbascum densiflorum

Introduced from Europe and rare, seemingly popping up from time to time in the region but never persisting. Flowers June to August. A very showy species, with relatively large, fully open flowers with broad petals; stamens with yellow hairs. Flower spike usually with short side branches in the upper stem leaf bases. Stem leaves with winged bases, running well into the stem. Leaves softly downy all over. Very similar to Orange Mullein and best told from it by the winged bases to the stem leaves. Told from Great Mullein by the thinner leaves, branched flower spike and by the stigma which is elongate at the tip like a narrow spoon or spatula.

Dense-flowered Mullein Dense-flowered Mullein
Habit
Flowers


Hungarian Mullein      Verbascum speciosum

Introduced from Europe and generally rare and not persisting. A well-known population has become established in West Norfolk. Flowers June to August. A spectacular species, with narrow-petalled flowers carried in a two-metre tall, broadly-branched spike; stamens with white hairs. The basal leaves are narrower than most other species likely to be found around the county but densely hairy, like other species.

Hungarian Mullein Hungarian Mullein Hungarian Mullein Hungarian Mullein
Habit
Flower
Basal leaves
Leaf detail


White Mullein      Verbascum lychnitis

A rare introduction in East Anglia with only a handful of records, although considered native in chalky places in south-east England. Flowers July to August. A slightly smaller species than the species above, usually to only a metre or so in height. The flower spikes are branched, with branches carried rather stiffly and more erect than Hoary Mullein. Flowers relatively small with narrow petals; sometimes white but often yellow, despite the English name. Stamen hairs whitish. Upper stem leaves not winged at the base. Leaves relatively thin, and densely hairy. Leaves downy, relatively small and thin and rather like those of foxgloves.

White Mullein White Mullein White Mullein
Habit
Flowers
Flower detail
White Mullein White Mullein
Basal leaf
Stem leaf bases


Dark Mullein      Verbascum nigrum

A native species of chalky soils, rather scarce generally but locally common on dry soils in Breckland and the Suffolk Sandlings. Flowers June to September. A relatively short species, to around a metre in height, the flower spike usually unbranched, or sometimes with a few side branches. Flowers relatively small but opneing fully; pale yellow with purple stamen hairs. Leaves hairy, but less so than most other species and consequently having a greener appearance; midrib often purple-tinged.

Dark Mullein Dark Mullein Dark Mullein
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Dark Mullein Dark Mullein
Basal leaves
Basal leaf


Caucasian Mullein      Verbascum pyramidatum

Introduced from Eastern Europe and generally rare, with a small population established in grassy places in the Newmarket area in West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire. Flowers June to August. A relatively small species, to a little over a metre in height and with a much-branched, rather open flower spike. Flowers relatively small and narrow-petalled; stamens with pale purple hairs. Leaves downy but much less so than other mulleins and consequently appearing greener. Leaves with coursely-toothed and wavy margins.

Caucasian Mullein Caucasian Mullein Caucasian Mullein Caucasian Mullein
Habit
Flower
Basal leaf
Leaf detail


Moth Mullein      Verbascum blattaria

Introduced from Europe and an occasional garden escape, but rarely persisting for long. Flowers June to August. A small species, to less than a metre in height and with a very open flower spike, the flowers being arranged singly on long stalks from the base of small, leafy bracts. Flowers are large and broad-petalled with purple-haired stamens and may be yellow or white. Leaves green, more or less hairless and variable in shape, sometimes being wavy-edged. Upper part of plant and seed capsules have sticky-glandular hairs.

Moth Mullein Moth Mullein Moth Mullein Moth Mullein
Flowers
Flower
Flower
Seed capsule
Moth Mullein Moth Mullein Moth Mullein
Basal leaves
Basal leaves
Stem leaves