Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide

Common Mullein: Verbascum thapsus

cmullein4-30.jpg (117164 bytes) Weed Description:  A biennial that may reach as much as 7 feet in height with large woolly leaves and a long spike with many showy yellow flowers.  Common mullein was brought to America by the Puritans, who used the plant as a medicinal herb. Teas and ointments made from the leaves of this weed continued to be used for many years as a ‘cure’ for lung diseases, rheumatism, burns, rashes, and earaches.  Common mullein is primarily a weed of pastures, hay fields, roadsides, right-of-ways, and abandoned areas.  It is found throughout the United States except for the upper great plains.
Seedlings:  Cotyledons are spatula-shaped.  First true leaves have many soft hairs and are oval in outline with only slightly wavy margins.  Subsequent leaves are also densely hairy and have more wavy margins. cmullein4-30b.jpg (121161 bytes)
Leaves:  Leaves initially develop as a basal rosette during the first year of growth and then occur alternately along the flowering stem during the second year of growth.  All leaves are covered in hairs, to the point that leaves are most often described as being 'woolly'.  Rosette leaves are oblong in outline, ranging from 6 to18 inches in length.  Leaves become progressively smaller up the flowering stem.
Stems: Erect, unbranched, occurring during the second year of growth.  Stems may reach as much as 6 feet in height and are also densely hairy.

Roots:  A taproot and a fibrous root system.

Flowers:  Many flowers occur in a dense spike at the end of the flowering stem.  These spikes may reach as much as 20 inches in length.  Flowers are yellow in color, approximately 1 inch in diameter, and consist of five petals.

Fruit:  An oval capsule, approximately 6 mm in diameter.

Identifying Characteristics:   The rosette growth habit, large 'woolly' leaves and stems, and flowering stems with many yellow flowers are all characteristics that help in the identification of common mullein.  Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) is closely related to common mullein, however this weed is generally smaller and has leaves without hairs and toothed leaf margins unlike common mullein.  Additionally, the flowers of common mullein are yellow and do not occur on peduncles (flower stalks), whereas those of moth mullein or yellow and purple or white and purple in color and do occur on peduncles.