Mullein, Jacob’s staff, Jacob’s rod
Verbascum is the original Latin name for this plant used by the Romans and is thought to be a corruption of barbascum which in turn is a form of barba or ‘beard’. If you’re still with me, the plant was given this name because the silvery gray foliage looks like a beard. Blame it all on Linnaeus. Mullein comes from moleyn in Anglo Saxon and malen in the Old French; both of which were derived from the Latin malandrium, meaning the malanders of leprosy. The plant was used in the treatment of leprosy. It was also used in the treatment of lung diseases in cattle. Jacob’s staff and Jacob’s rod refer to the staff-like nature of the woody, upright flower stem that shoots up from the velvety leaves.
- Bloom time: Mid summer
- Height: 24” to 72”
- Sun needed: Full
- Bloom color: White, yellow shades
- Planting space: 12” to 18” apart
- Soil preferred: Well-drained
- Propagation method: Seed, root cuttings of hybrids
- Hardiness: hybrids USDA 5. Others USDA 4
This is a biennial form, the leaves are quite white and hairy. The flowers easily reach 5 to 6 feet with their mult-cluster flowers.
‘Polarsommer’ (also sold as ‘Arctic Summer’) is a bright yellow flowering form.
‘Silver Lining’ is a lemon yellow.
This is a perennial form that reaches 24 to 30” tall with yellow flowers
‘Album’ A white flowering form, 24” tall and quite attractive.
This is a dark leafed form. The flowers reach 48” to 60” and are medium yellow.
This is a biennial growing to 72” with yellow flowers. One of the more ancient of plants growing in association with man.
This is a plant that has been hybridized and whose offspring can act as perennials or biennials.
- ‘Candy Spires’ 24 to 36”. Color varies as it is a seed mix. Whites, mauves, pinks. If you purchase it from a garden center, they won’t guarantee the color.
- ‘Flush of White’ 24 to 30”, tall white flowers
Verbascum x hybrida
There are an increasing number of hybrids coming onto the market. Some of the best are:
- ‘Helen Johnson’ 24” tall with coppery peach colored blooms. Quite spectacular
- ‘Jackie’ 24” tall flowers are peach pink with a darker violet eye
- ‘Jolly Eyes’ 24” tall with cream-white flowers for an extended bloom time
- ‘Letitia’ 24” with grey green leaves and bright yellow flowers for an extended bloom time. This plant does not do well where the winters are wet rather than cold.
Note: most of the varieties pictured below are hardy only to USDA 5. Anything colder and you’re taking a big risk.
These are for the most part, plants of full sun and gravelly, or very well drained soils. They are grown as much for their felt-like gray foliage as they are their towering flower spikes. These spikes, you’ll be pleased to know, do not require any staking. Do note that many of the species plants are biennial and not truly perennial.
Potions and Poisons
The entire plant – flowers, leaves and roots – are said to contain a mild sedative and narcotic effect. The leaves have been used as tobacco and other medicinal salves and treatments. The leaves have also been used as poultices and for the treatment of diarrhea. It comes with mixed messages in the old herbals and while it probably isn’t a problem – better safe than sorry. Avoid letting small children consume any part of this plant.