The Botany of Mullein

A smile always comes to my face when I see a mullein patch. This is a plant that I have really come to enjoy both aesthetically, and for its medicinal benefits. My kids have come to enjoy the stalks as natures toy sword, as they were once used many years ago.  Let this lovely mullein plant thrive in your yard. Read on to learn how to identify mullein. 


This European beauty has naturalized and made itself at home throughout most of North America. Mullein is a member of the figwort family, also known as the Scrophulariacea family. The scientific name for mullein is Verbascum thapsus. There are some 200 Verbascum species throughout the Earth.


Mullein, to me, is just gorgeous. In the first year it’s large furry rabbit like leaves come up. The plant won’t flower until the second year in which they will grow ever so tall and produce a lovely stalk full of leaves and adorable yellow flowers. I have some that grow on the side of my garden shed and they are just exquisite.


Mullein is often found in patches because of how the seeds fall. It loves sun and disturbed soil. Down the road from me there is a lovely patch of mullein that grows in a ditch. I’ll often see mullein along roadsides. It can even grow in areas that are packed with gravel.


The mullein plant is not at all woody. You can bend the tall stalk down and it will simply curve over without snapping. It’s a pretty thick and strong stalk. The stalk will grow between 2 to 8 feet in height.


Mullein is a biennial, meaning it takes 2 years to live out the full course of its life. The first year only leaves appear in a circular pattern called a basal rosette, similar to how dandelion leaves form. The leaves are soft, hairy, broad ovate shaped. In the second year more interesting and wonderful growth begins to happen.

The first-year leaves are smaller compared to how large they get in the second year, which can be 12 inches in length. In the second year a stalk emerges from the center of the basal rosette. The leaves at the bottom of the plant are large, becoming smaller as they move upward in an alternate pattern on the stalk.  


In the second year the flowers appear on the stalk. The five petaled yellow flowers bloom between June-September, with only a few flowers opening at a time. The flower is then insect pollinated, or if not, the mullein plant will self-pollinate. Hundreds of thousands of seeds sit in each of the capsules. I know, it seems like a lot, but that is nature for you. When the seeds drop, they fall close by creating the lovely mullein patches I love so my much!


Mullein roots form as cream colored taproots.


Lamb’s Ear is a plant that I think looks a bit like mullein. Here is how you can tell Lamb’s Ear apart from mullein. Lamb’s ear is in the Lamiaceae, or mint family and it’s a perennial.  The stalk is much shorter than that of the mullein plant ranging anywhere from 12” to 18” in length with purple flowers. The bluish-green wooly leaves are tongue shaped with a length between 2” to 6” long.  Lamb’s ear is used to dress wounds because of its ability to clot blood. It has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and absorbent properties.


There you have it… the botany of mullein. Follow the wildalexherbs blog for more things to come on mullein! And Like Wild Alex Herbs on Facebook as an easy way to stay connected and see what’s new.

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For more information on identifying mullein and other plants check out Thomas Elpel’s book Botany in a Day. This is an amazing book that tells you all you need to know about botany. It also goes into more depth about the mullein flower. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


  1. De la Foret, Rosalee “Mullein Monograph”. Learning Herbs, Herb Mentor. Accessed February 20, 2020.
  2. De la Foret Rosalee “Learning Your Plants, Lesson 15” Learning Herbs, Herb Mentor. Video Course: Learning Your Plants. January 18, 2012.
  3. Elpel, Thomas J., “Botany in a Day, The Patterns Methods of Plant Identification, An Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North America”, 6th Edition. Hopps Press, LLC., Pony, Montana. January 2018. Page 150.
  4. Houdret, Jessica and Farrow, Joanna. “The Kitchen & Garden Book of Herbs: Knowing, Growing, Cooking”. Hermes House, Anness Pulishing Ltd, London. 2006. P 227.
  5. Mcdonald, Jim. “Mullein Plant Walk”  August 13, 2009.
  6. Tierra, Lesley. L.A, AHG “A Kid’s Herb Book: for Children of All Ages”. Robert D. Reed Publisher. 2000. P 59.

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