7. Haughton, C. S. 1978. Green Immigrants. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., New York.
The Scientific classification for mullein has not changed since Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) presented it in his Species Plantarum in 1753. Verbascum, the name Pliny used for V. thapsus, was Latin for mullein itself (2), leaving little to intercept in the way of name history. The word is very likely a corruption of the Latin barbascum [bearded plant, derived from the Latin barba, or beard (12)], referring to the plant’s beardlike filaments (8).
Mullein is found throughout the United States and in southern Canada, in the British Isles, and throughout Europe as far north as Norway and as far east as the Western Himalayas; it has been reported in Asia (6). However, mullein is not a serious agricultural weed, since it is controlled readily by cultivation (6). It is most commonly found as an early colonizer of abandoned fields or along field edges or roadsides (6).
Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus L. #3 VESTH) has an ancient relationship with man. It never has been used for food but traditionally has been respected for its mystical and medicinal powers. According to Greek legend, the gods gave Ulysses a mullein stalk to defend himself against the wiles of Circe (4), the enchantress who turned the companions of Ulysses into swine by means of a magic drink. During the Middle Ages, mullein was imputed with the power to control demons (7); an old herbal says, “If a man beareth one twig of this wort, he will not be terrified by any awe, nor will a wild beast hurt him, or any evil coming near” (4).
Not all gardens need be visual, however. Mullein is planted in gardens for the blind, where its tactile beauty serves a worthy purpose (7).
By 1818, common mullein was incorrectly described as a native species by Amos Eaton (1776-1842), an American botanist (6). By 1859, mullein’s persistence outside of cultivation seemed to place it in disfavor: “There is no surer evidence of a slovenly, negligent farmer, than to see his fields over-run with Mulleins” (3).
Mullein also is an established medicinal herb. One of its popular names “lungwort,” derives from its most common use: from ancient Rome to modem Ireland, a tea made from its leaves has been used as a cure for lung diseases in both humans and livestock (4, 7). It is also a traditional treatment for diarrhea and rheuma-tism, and ointments for bums and earaches are still made from its leaves in the rural mountains of the Eastern United States (7). It is used as a tobacco substitute (11) and a remedy for nettle rash (9).
One such invasive species that could affect western Nebraska is common mullein, an herbaceous biennial forb found throughout the Great Plains and most of North America. It is a county or state noxious weed in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Flowering usually occurs in June and July when single flower stalks packed with sulfur-yellow colored flowers bolt. The flowers are five-lobed and united at the base. Seed capsules are woolly and contain numerous small seeds.
Common mullein has an extensive fibrous and tap root system. The root system allows the plant to access soil moisture better than native plants, giving it a competitive advantage, especially during dry years.
Consider using biological control insects, such as the curculionid weevil (Gymnetron tetrum) and the mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci). The weevil larvae feed on the seed in the seed capsule and can destroy up to 50% of the seed. The moth larvae feed on the foliage.
Prevention is the best and cheapest management option. Having well-established grasses and forbs on a maintained pasture or rangeland with proper grazing and rotational grazing techniques can go a long way to prevent its establishment.