The great mullein is to the plains and middle-western hills what the saguaro cactus is to the des-erl a massive accent upon the landscape, an exclamation mark against the sky. The mullein does no1 approach the substance or grandeur of the saguaro, but somehow, in the less dramatic land of the Illinois country, it serves much the same purpose of accent.
Verbascum thapsus L.
July - August Pastures, uplands.
The mullein begins its year with a broad rosette of leaves which remain againsl the frozen ground all winter long. The leaves are unique among our plants- very thick, furry, silvery, blue-grey-green, matted with fibers which, under a microscope, appear as violently thorny as any cactus spikes. The mullein rosette is one of the most striking, self-contained objects to find on a winter's day.
In spring the stalk begins to rise from the middle of the rosette and bears smaller, furry, grey-green leave- alternately upon its angled, ridged surface. The stem may grow four feet tall or more before it develops a flower spike. Then the stalk produce- dozen- of matted, closely set, furry buds from which yellow, five-parted flowers open for a while, then fall away as more open through the summer. The mullein flower stalk always has a rather tattered, unfinished, worn look, as the flowers open here and there upon it without any apparent pattern or plan.
With frosts, the mullein stalks stand bereft of leaves, but the stems are stiff and sturdy, the flower stalks solid, and there the mullein stands silhouetted against the autumn sky. The outline of the mullein now seems much like that angular saguaro which stands stark and dramatic against a desert background.