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Photo of mullein basal leaves
The rosette of soft leaves serves the mullein plant in a variety of ways.
Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Other Common Name
Flannel Plant
Family

Scrophulariaceae (figworts)

Description

A densely hairy, greenish-gray herbaceous biennial. Flowers short, small, yellow, tubular, with 5 petal lobes; tightly packed in a terminal, usually unbranched, tall spike. Blooms May–September. During the first year, only a rosette of basal leaves forms. In the second year, the flower stalk rises, blooms, and sets seed, before the plant dies. The basal leaves persist during the winter, oblong, on petioles, to 1 foot long, extremely soft-hairy. Stem leaves are progressively smaller toward the top, with leaf tissue continuing into the stem.

Similar species: There are 4 species of Verbascum in Missouri. Moth mullein (V. blattaria) is common and weedy and is treated elsewhere in this guide. The other two are uncommon, introduced, and known only from single collections on highways or railroads: white mullein (V. lychnitis) in 1975, and clasping mullein (V. phlomoides) in 1915.

Size

Height: 7 feet.

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Photo of mullein flowers and buds
Mullein Flowers
Mullein flowers are short, small, yellow, and tubular, with 5 petal lobes and are tightly packed in a terminal, usually unbranched, tall spike.

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Photo of mullein plant blooming in field
Mullein (Flannel Plant)
Mullein's fuzzy, green-gray rosettes of leaves and tall spikes of yellow flowers make it easy to identify.

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Photo of a mullein leaf, closeup showing hairs.
Mullein Leaf Closeup
The green surfaces of a mullein leaf are obscured by their many hairs.

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Photo of flowers at top of mullein stalk
Mullein Flowers
In a mullein flower, the 5 stamens are not all the same. The upper 3 are rather short, straight, and densely bearded with yellow hairs. The lower 2 are longer and mostly hairless.

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Photo of several mullein plants infesting a field
Mullein (Flannel Plant)
In some states and countries, especially where the ground tends to be open, mullein is a genuine invasive weed. This photo was taken in the Dominican Republic.

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Photo of flowers at top of mullein stalk
Mullein Flowers
The flowers of mullein yield a bright yellow or green dye. Mullein has a lengthy ethnobotanical history.

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Photo of a mullein plant basal leaves
Mullein (Flannel Plant)
The leaves of mullein are amazingly soft and fuzzy. They have had numerous uses.

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A tall spike of a plant with yellow blooms beginning on the top.
Mullein in Dogwood Canyon MO
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in disturbed, open sites sites, including old fields, pastures, farm yards, ditches, railroads, roadsides, waste places, banks of streams and rivers, margins of ponds and lakes, and disturbed parts of glades and prairies. A native of Europe, this mullein was introduced to the eastern United States in the 1700s as a toxin for fishing. It is now found throughout temperate North America. Grazing animals avoid this species, which allows it to increase in pastures.

image of Mullein Flannel Plant distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

About 2001 there was big news in the world of botany, as scientists divided the large figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) into several smaller families. For many decades, that family was thought to include about 4,000 species globally. But botanists asked if all those plants truly were so closely related. By 2001, DNA evidence proved that many “scrophs” belonged in separate families. Today, there are fewer than 1,700 species in the family, and mullein is one of only seven true scrophs in Missouri.

Human connections

For millennia Europeans have used mullein to treat lung, skin, and digestive problems. Native Americans quickly grasped its medicinal value and also smoked it. The flowers yield yellow or green dye. The stalks, with wax or oil, can be used as torches. The leaves have been used for diapers and shoe insoles.

Ecosystem connections

In Missouri, mullein fortunately does not compete well in healthy native habitats, even if it is troublesome in cultivated areas. In other states and countries, it is a noxious weed. One plant can make up to 180,000 seeds, which can stay viable for 120 years. Mullein can also host numerous insects.