Posts Tagged ‘White Moth Mullein’

White Moth Mullein - Verbascum blattaria albiflorum. Hill Farm, July 14, 2014.

White Moth Mullein – Verbascum blattaria albiflorum. Hill Farm, July 14, 2014. Image: HFN

Biennial. Zone 3. Scrophulariaceae. Europe, northern Africa. Verbascum is from the Latin barbascum, bearded. Blattaria comes from the Latin blatta, cockroach, in homage to the plant’s history as an insect repellant. Thrives in full sun to part shade. Happy in a wide variety of soils. Quite drought tolerant.

A dainty and lovely biennial.

In its first year, smooth, deep green leaf rosettes form and lie close to the ground, giving no hint of next year’s tall and graceful flower stalks.

The rosettes overwinter and start to show signs of further development in the spring of the second year, when slender, multi-branched stems emerge and elongate, reaching an ultimate height of 4 feet or so for the white form, and up to 6 feet for the yellow. Though tall, Moth Mullein’s general effect is airy enough for the front of the border.

Neatly folded, angular buds on short pedicels pop open into large, gleaming white flowers blushed on the petal backs with purple, echoing the bright purple, intricately furred stamens tipped with brilliant orange pollen. Blooms unfold in late June or early July, and continue through summer, ending at last in September.

Bloom detail, Verbascum blattaria albiflorum. Hill Farm, July 2014.

Bloom detail, Verbascum blattaria albiflorum. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

The common name of Moth Mullein is thought to come from the resemblance of the stamens to the intricately haired antennae of moths. The flowers are also attractive to all sorts of insects, including nocturnal moths and early-foraging bees. Blooms unfold in earliest morning, and subside by noon, to reopen the following day.

An early-foraging bee visits Moth Mullein just before sunrise. Hill Farm, July 14, 2014. (All of the Verbascum family are veritable bee magnets.)

An early-foraging wild bee visits Moth Mullein just before sunrise. Hill Farm, July 14, 2014. (All of the Verbascum family are veritable bee magnets.) Image: HFN

Neatly dropped flowers are followed by hard, round seed pods, each containing hundreds of small, black seeds. Seeds of this species remain viable in soil for a long time; in one well-documented experiment  initiated by Michigan State University Professor William James Beal in 1879, Moth Mullein seeds sprouted over 120 years after their storage outdoors in an upside-down bottle buried in dry sand.

Arriving with early European colonists, Moth Mullein has been known to grow in North America since at least the early 1800s. It has become naturalized to various degrees across the United States and into southern Canada, being particularly successful at establishing itself on freshly disturbed ground.

Moth Mullein was traditionally used to safeguard fabrics against moths and other insects; American colonial gardens grew Moth Mullein for this purpose and also for use as a dye plant. With appropriate mordants Moth Mullein yields green and yellow dyes.

Verbascum blattaria has been investigated for various medicinal properties, and in 1974 was the subject of a study on its insecticidal properties, showing some intriguing possibilities as its application killed over half of the mosquito larvae in the study.

 

 

 

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