Verbascum thapsus (Common Mullein)

Plant Info
Also known as: Great Mullein
Genus:Verbascum
Family:Scrophulariaceae (Figwort)
Life cycle:biennial
Origin:Europe
Status:
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; fields, along roads, waste areas
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:2 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] A club-shaped spike up to 2 feet long densely packed with ¾ inch yellow flowers. Individual flowers have 5 petals, the 2 lower petals slightly larger than the upper 3, and only a few flowers are open at any one time. In the center are 5 orange-tipped stamens and a single, curved, green style; 3 of the stamens have stalks (filaments) covered in long hairs. The 5 sepals are triangular and densely hairy. Smaller spikes may develop near the base of the main spike, but a single spike is common.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are large, up to 15 inches long and 5 inches across, widely spreading at the base, becoming progressively smaller and erect as they ascend the stem. The blade is thick and soft like felt or flannel, densely covered in short hairs. The shape is generally oval, with a blunt or softly pointed tip.

[photo of winged leaf base] The leaf base tapers to a “winged” stalk that extends down the stem; upper leaves are stalkless. The leaf edges may have small rounded teeth and may be a little wavy. Attachment is alternate. Stems are single, unbranched and densely hairy.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is an oval, 2-celled capsule containing many seeds. Each cell splits down the seam to release the seeds. The seed heads persist through winter.

Notes:

Common Mullein is a weedy species of dry, disturbed soils, often seen in large groups on roadsides, empty lots, railroads, gravel pits, and degraded fields. While weedy, it's not an especially problematic pest in high quality habitat and can be managed with a bit of hand pulling, the taproot usually coming up without a lot of effort. The dead, brown stems with the remains of the flower cluster persist through winter and into spring, reminding me of a graveyard when any quantity of plants is encountered. The first year, Common Mullein is just a rosette of basal leaves, 1 to 2 feet across with the flowering stem bolting the second year. Common Mullein has gone by about 50 different common names, including Velvet Plant, Flannel Plant, Hare's Beard, and others that refer to the leaves. Common Mullein is likely one of the under-reported weeds in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka, Cook and Ramsey counties. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Mary P.
on: 2008-06-08 17:32:26

You've helped me to put a name to another wild flower that I have taken a picture of in Stearns County.

Posted by: barb c. - Brooklyn Park
on: 2009-07-14 14:10:07

Growing in a flower bed. didnt know if it was a flower or weed.

Posted by: crystal - bagley
on: 2009-07-25 15:24:45

growing beside my driveway, clearwater county, love this site, have used it to put names to all the wildflowers growing in the woods of my new home.

Posted by: Sue - Northeast shore Clear Lake
on: 2009-08-16 12:25:36

Sparse, first year plants. Very, very thick and soft leaves without spikes at this time. Obvious to us why they are called "Beggar's Blanket"!

Posted by: Roxanne P - Oak Grove and East Bethel
on: 2009-08-20 17:04:02

We have alot of these.

Posted by: Mark - Oakdale Nature Preserve, Oakdale MN
on: 2010-06-19 17:10:24

Large colony of these in the meadow southwest of the Discovery Center, in an area where a large pile of wood chips was dumped after a heavy windstorm several years ago.

Posted by: Mike - Lino Lakes
on: 2010-07-25 07:55:19

Have a hill I have been cultivating as a prairie grass environment. This plant is persistent. It establishes itself among plants that one really can't see if he isn't on top of it. Easily obscured first year by the bergamot, etc that grows much higher. My wife likes it but I see thick stands of it along I-94 that are really not very pretty at all. Am grateful for this site. Knowing it is an invasive species, I plan to do battle again in a week or so...

Posted by: Selena - Mahnomen
on: 2012-08-01 15:08:03

found in my friends yard pretty sure a bird brought the seed in. about the best time to pick prairie onion is now

Posted by: JayPea - Roseau County
on: 2013-06-11 23:29:08

There are many of these growing in the gravel pits all along Highway 11 where it follows the ridge. They are just little rosettes of leaves as of yet. I have always wondered what they are and looked here a couple years ago and did not find them. Glad to find them now.

Posted by: Jason - Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties
on: 2013-07-28 22:23:23

Found in multiple open fields, Gravel pits, and CRP

Posted by: Ken - Golden Valley
on: 2013-08-05 08:09:31

Great information about this stranger that popped up by the pond in my yard. It must have been left there by a bird. Since it appears to be biennial I wonder if the seeds it drops will make new plants next summer.The plant growing in my yard must a a giant version since it is already about seven and half feet tall with a three foot flower spike...and grwoing taller every day.

Posted by: Deb - Minneapolis
on: 2013-12-08 07:38:39

I have always loved these leaves. I didn't know what they were, but knew I liked them. In 2012, three of them sprouted up in great landscaping places in my yard. They were beautiful and I let them grow. When they started growing their spikes I wasn't sure I liked them anymore but I saw bees buzzing the flowers so I let them alone. In the fall birds were all over them. One thing's for sure, I will never let them go to seed again! In 2013, I had innumerable numbers of them in my yard. Although, I still let a couple of them grow in various places because their big velvety leaves are gorgeous! But, no more tall flowing spikes!!!

Posted by: Kris - Nisswa
on: 2014-07-10 21:00:34

I used to see this everywhere as a child in the Brainerd lakes area. I don't see it much anymore, but saw a group of them outside Nisswa today.

Posted by: sandy - south haven
on: 2014-07-26 09:16:46

We have been trying to identify this weed since spring. It is now about 7 feet tall. We have never seen anything like this.

Posted by: Andrew - Apple Valley, MN
on: 2014-08-08 08:58:29

Just moved to AV and have a towering Common Mullein growing in my front yard (over 6ft). Glad to hear its native to MN.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-08-08 13:31:52

Andrew, common mullein is not native. It's not an aggressive non-native, though, but it can be weedy in disturbed soils.

Posted by: Kathy - William O'Brien
on: 2015-05-23 18:12:45

Observed along the Hiking Club Trail, obviously not yet blooming.

Posted by: Erica - North of Bemidji
on: 2016-05-22 10:13:11

I found this site particularly to identify this wildflower. We moved into the country and had about 4 of these tall spikes along our gravel driveway along a large lilac bush. I just pulled up the three brown spiked not knowing what they were. Thanks!

Posted by: Robyn - Andover
on: 2016-06-16 10:43:21

I've had these growing in my yard forever. Some started growing in the field near me and I finally got to see the tall spikes! I'm thrilled to have access to a plant that makes free 'bamboo posts' now. :)

Posted by: Jan - Twin Ponds Curve, Savage, MN; Scott County
on: 2016-06-30 09:03:02

Saw this in an empty lot while out walking. Love this site, have used it a lot to identify plants.

Posted by: Mick - Ramsey county
on: 2016-07-03 14:05:56

I have a couple of these growing on the edge of a wildflower garden. Should I pull them up or leave them there?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-07-03 18:42:14

Mick, mullein isn't really invasive but it can be overbearing due to sheer size. I wouldn't keep it in my own garden simply because I prefer to have only natives that are more beneficial to native insects.

Posted by: S - Mahtomedi
on: 2016-07-06 12:08:38

I am trying to kill it. Wish me luck

Posted by: J - Merrifield
on: 2016-07-23 02:10:41

We have it growing here in Merrifield, myself and my neighbors all have it.

Posted by: Pat W - Everywhere!
on: 2016-08-25 19:50:21

Unfortunately, this is often referred to as "Indian Tobacco", which it isn't. Just thought I would post this in case others are looking for the this plant by mistake. When you see this in the wild, take a few moments and pull it up. Every little bit helps.

Posted by: Ellen S. - Minneapolis and Edina
on: 2016-10-18 21:47:47

It's also called "turkey mullein" which can be misleading too, if somebody thinks it refers to the native bird.

Posted by: ann a - New Hope
on: 2016-12-22 11:34:46

My favorite plant. Collect and dry leaves every year. Then share to all friends who get cough, croup, endless bouts with mucous. It is a panacea as a tea - which i have found out will help keep the mucous from being too thick - hence, loose enough to cough easier..... I have seen mullein flower ear drops too - it is known to many people and not at all considered a weed. It is one of God's medicines. I am sure Hippocrates would approve!

Posted by: ann a - New Hope
on: 2016-12-22 11:38:11

Mullein as a tea needs to be sieved to keep out the hairs ( esp. for anyone with Asthma) Thank you for this wonderful website.

Posted by: Milena S - Lauderdale
on: 2017-06-19 18:59:56

Two came out in my backyard this spring. No idea how they got there. My yard was redone last year, early spring. Maybe the birds because haven't seen any other around.

Posted by: Jeff R - Fillmore County, Lanesboro area
on: 2017-07-11 22:33:26

Has been growing around here forever, my father called it wild tobacco. I farm and it grows in pasture and along our roads. I control it some by pulling, or spot spraying. Never get it all, like musk thistle It always crops up somewhere.

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