Common mullein is a large biennial plant that can grow 5 to 6 feet in height. The distinctive, grayish-green, oval leaves are covered in a downy hair that is very soft to the touch. In the plant’s first year, only a basal rosette of leaves appears. In the second year, a tall flower spike emerges; it is covered in thick, alternating leaves.
The small yellow flowers are stalkless (they are not on a peduncle) and 5-petaled. Each individual flower is only open for a single day and is pollinated by insects. This plant produces a large volume of seed, which helps explain how it has spread so successfully around the world
The entire flower spike, including the fruit, will eventually dry out and persist through the next winter. At that point, mullein looks a bit like a tall, brown club sticking up out of the barren ground. Goldfinches will feed on the seed spikes.
This plant is an early colonizer of dry, disturbed soils. You will find it along roadsides, banks, and in meadows and pastures.
Common Mullein is not native to the United States, but was imported for medicinal purposes and is now well-established across the contient. It is still used as an herbal remedy for skin, throat and lung ailments (astringent and emollient properties).
Other common names include “Cowboy Toilet Paper” (for obvious reasons), Feltwort, Flannel, Old Man’s Blanket, and Shepherd’s Club (a reference to the tall, dried flower spikes).
Bloom time for Common Mullein is June to August. Check out the post for the closely-related, but quite different Moth Mullein, which is also blooming in summer.