Common Mullein

Verbascum thapsus

Copyright, Tom Remaley, Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group

Robert R. Kowal, Wisconsin State Herbarium


Common Mullein is a weed usually found in waste places (open areas where the ground has been disturbed). Other places it grows include fields, roadsides, streamsides, gardens, and forest openings. It doesn't like shade.

Mullein is usually recognized by its tall flower spikes, which can be 10 feet tall. It has pretty flowers, but only a few bloom at a time, so most people don't think mullein is very attractive.

Common Mullein is a pioneer plant, so it is one of the first plants to grow in a place that has burned or otherwise been disturbed.

Merel R. Black, Wisconsin State Herbarium

Copyright, Jim Stasz, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Mullein is biennial, so it lives for two years. The first year, this plant grows a rosette, but no flower stalk. The rosette survives through Winter, and the flower stalk grows the second year. At the end of the second year, the plant dies.

The rosette leaves are large and soft. They are bluish-green and grow up to 12 inches long and 5 inches wide. Most people compare the soft surface of a leaf to felt.

Common Mullein flowers are yellow with five petals. Flowers are about an inch wide. They bloom a few at a time from June to September.

Mullein produce huge numbers of seeds. One mullein plant may make over 100,000 seeds in a year. Seeds can survive almost any conditions and can last up to 100 years. Since mullein can't grow in shade, the seeds can lay in the soil, waiting until plants around them die or are removed.

Copyright 1990, Arthur H. Bazell, M.D.

Common Mullein was introduced to Virginia from Europe many years ago. It grows faster than many of our native plants, and can crowd out other pioneers in a field. Later, when grasses take over the field, mulleins can't compete, so they die, leaving only their dead flower stalks.

Only a few animals use mullein for food. Certain species of thrips, stinkbugs, weevils, and leaf bugs will eat mullein leaves; but these are insects which were brought over from Europe. Short-horned Grasshoppers, such as the Differential Grasshopper, will also eat leaves.

American Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings, and a few other birds eat mullein seeds.

Common Mullein provide shelter for insects in the winter. Since rosettes survive through the cold weather, leaves provide warm and protection for ladybugs, plant bugs, and black bugs, among others.

Robert W. Freckman, Wisconsin State Herbarium

Virginia Ducey, Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants

Hummingbirds sometimes use the soft leaves to line their nests.

Many insects come to mullein flowers for nectar. Bumble bees, honey bees, and hover flies help pollinate these plants.

Several species of fungi become parasites of Common Mullein, including Powdery Mildew.

Common Mullein grows best in dry, sandy soil.

Other plants which may be found near Common Mullein include weeds and grasses, such as Smooth Crabgrass, Common Dandelion, Switchgrass, English Plantain, Common Milkweed, thistles, Common Ragweed, Lamb's Quarters, Queen Anne's Lace, and Jimsonweed.

Walter Hodge, USF Herbarium

Copyright 1998, Nick Kurzenko

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food
Animals Using as Shelter
Associations with Other Plants

American Goldfinch

Convergent Ladybug Beetle

Smooth Crabgrass

Honey Bee Po

Differential Grasshopper

Chinese Mantid


Golden Northern Bumble Bee Po

Golden Northern Bumble Bee

Goldenrod Spider

Common Dandelion

Honey Bee

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

English Plantain

Eastern Worm Snake

Common Milkweed

American Toad


Southern Leopard Frog

Bull Thistle

Rabid Wolf Spider

Common Ragweed

Queen Anne's Lace

Lamb's Quarters

Relationship to Humans:

Common Mullein can be an annoying weed when it grows in someone's garden. Mullein rosettes are easy to pull up though, since they have shallow roots. Make sure to get rid of them the first year though, because once they produce seeds (since there are so many), they are hard to get rid of. Humans have used mullein in medicines, and dyes.


Verbascum thapsus


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