This year, we moved the Mullein to the Orphan Garden, where we grow a variety of things. If a plant isn't performing well, I put it in the Orphan Garden to give it one more chance to straighten up and grow right. If it doesn't, into the compost it goes. That's a short trip, because the compost bins are right beside the Orphan Garden. I didn't move it because it wasn't growing well, I just didn't like where it was and didn't quite know where to put it just yet.
Two winters ago, Romie and I took a walk down the old railroad bed in my hometown. Being winter, not much was looking green, but we noticed a fuzzy plant that seemed to be laughing at the frigid temps and the snow. It fascinated me and when spring came, we returned to dig it up for relocating in our garden.
Soon I learned that our little plant was Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsis) and that it wasn't going to stay little for long. I planted it in a mostly shaded spot in the heart of Max's Garden and that first summer (2008), it shot out a flower spike that grew to maybe four feet tall, but I'd expected taller.
It became clear pretty early on this spring that the Mullein was going to grow taller than four feet in this new location. You could almost watch it grow taller from one day to the next.
This photo was taken on July 9th and at this point it was just over seven feet tall (Romie is 6' 1"). Today, just ten days later, it stands more than eight feet tall, is sprouting auxiliary stems, and shows no signs of slowing down.
How high can it go?
Great Mullein or Common Mullein
Common mullein blooms from June through September. Plants must reach a critical size before flowering is initiated, which normally occurs during the second year but may be delayed until the fourth year of growth.
An individual plant produces 100,000 to 180,000 seeds. Seeds have no special mechanisms for dispersal and usually fall close to the parent plant. Once buried in soil, they can become dormant and survive for years. In a study begun in 1879, common mullein seeds buried in soil remained viable for 35 years.
- 'Mullein' is from the Latin 'mollis' meaning soft.
- Leaves of common mullein have been used as lamp wicks and Romans used plants dipped in fat as torches.
- Leaves of common mullein were placed inside shoes for warmth.
- Quaker women, forbidden to use makeup, rubbed the leaves on their cheeks to give the appearance of wearing rouge. The hairs on the leaf caused an allergic reaction to the skin, thus turning the skin red.
- A yellow dye made from common mullein flowers was used by Roman women to color hair.