Ontario Weeds: Common mullein

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Flowers and Fruit
  7. Habitat
  8. Similar Species
  9. Related Links

Name: Common mullein, Verbascum thapsus L.,

Other Names: grande molène, Candelabra, Candlesticks, Devil's-tobacco, bouillon-blanc, tabac du diable

Family: Figwort or Snapdragon Family (Scrophulariaceae

General Description: Biennial, reproducing only by seed.

Photos and Pictures

Common mullein.

Common mullein. Leaves.

Common mullein.

Common mullein. A. Rosette of basal leaves. B. Top of flowering stem.
Common mullein. A. Rosette of basal leaves. B. Top of flowering stem.

Stems & Roots: First-year plant a rosette of large, gray, woolly leaves on a deep, thick taproot; tall erect stems the second year. Stem 1-2m (3-6½ft) high, stout, unbranched or with 1 or 2 branches near the top, somewhat winged by edges of leaves which run down the stem below their nodes; stem and leaves densely woolly; rosette leaves many, often 30cm (12in.) long and 10cm (4in.) wide, oblong or broadest beyond the middle, narrowed towards the stalk; stem leaves of similar shape but gradually smaller upwards and changing from widest beyond the middle to widest before the middle and without leafstalks.

Flowers & Fruit: Flowers in a very dense, compact, elongated, thick spike; petals 5, yellow, united into a saucer-shaped corolla 12-20mm (½-4/5in.) wide with 5 lobes. stamens with 3 small anthers and 2 long ones; seedpods nearly spherical, about 1cm (2/5in.) in diameter but obscured by the mass of woolly bracts and sepals; seeds brownish, very small, about 0.7mm (1/40in.) long. Flowers from early July to September.

Habitat: Common mullein is widespread throughout southern Ontario but rather rare in the northern part of the province, occurring usually in dry sandy or gravelly soils, along roadsides, waste places and poor pastures.

Similar Species: It is distinguished by its densely white or gray woolly leaves during the first year, almost resembling white felt insoles, its stiffly erect stem in the second year, tipped with yellow flowers (hence one local name, "Candelabra"), its leaf margins continuing down the stem as narrow wings, its very dense, thick, woolly spike with yellowish flowers and nearly spherical seedpods and its erect, dry, brownish stalks which may remain standing for one or two years.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control


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For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 01 June 2002
Last Reviewed: 01 November 2003