verbascum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest

Verbascum Challenges

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

It was on a road trip in the arid Okanagan Valley that I first came across great mullein.  The statuesque yellow torch stood tall across the dry pastures.  I was smitten.  It reminded me of the blooming spires of foxglove crossed with Wile E. Coyote’s saguaro cactus.  Groovy!

Of course, I wanted one.

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

It even grew happily on the gravel verge of the highway. What a tough plant!  I like the idea of growing plants that don’t require me to drag out the hose.

C thought I was crazy, but he honoured my request to stop the van.  I bagged a torch.  When we got home, I sprinkled the seeds across our rocky outcropping.

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

If mullein grew in the semi-desert, would it grow in our temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest?
The next year – – No luck for me.  😦

On another trip, I marvelled at the velvety leaves when we ran across Verbascum Thapsus at the rest stop on the crest of the Cascade Mountains.  That highway shuts down through the winter season!  Mullein has to be an extra-tough plant if it handles baking summers AND freezing winters.

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

It seems great mullein grows in a great many places. We saw more in flower in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho & further east near Lewis & Clark Caverns in Montana.

The simple flowers open individually.  Each bloom for one day before fading while another matures, extending the season.

Some folks wrinkle their noses at common mullein, considering it too mundane & even invasive.  Others argue that its usefulness outways its issues.

verbascum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

In Grande Prairie, Alberta, JM had to remove a beautiful border of great mullein because it’s considered a noxious weed in her province.  I’m relieved that mullein is not on the regulated list in our part of BC.  Maybe there’s a reason why the seeds I scattered didn’t flourish?

Some garden nurseries sell other Verbascum species as garden ornamentals.  Those varieties are much more glamourous:

verbascum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  • Some bloom in different colours, like pastels, reds, purples & oranges…
  • Others flaunt more flower spikes…
  • Or a bigger rush of flowers instead of the gradual display of a few flowers at a time that common mullein presents…
  • A few varieties even promise to be perennial rather than biennial.

They’re all lovely, but I still covet the Verbascum in the wild.

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Last fall, I was delighted to find a furry rosette of leaves growing on our rocky outcropping.  It looked like a foxglove, but different.  I had my suspicions & crossed my fingers.

To my relief, it pulled through our soggy winter & put on a spring growth spurt.  Thankfully, the deer left it ungrazed

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

By June, it was blooming!
🙂

OK, I know it’s kinda puny in comparison to those on our travels…
(Vancouver Island’s spring is not nearly as sunny or hot as the interior.)
I celebrated anyway.
It’s been easily a decade since I scattered those seeds.

By the time the heat came in July (25C), the bloom was pretty much complete.

verbascum thapsus, great mullein, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, wooly mullein, velvet dock, moses blanket, feltwort, Aaron's rod, Sheppard's club, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I ever so carefully tipped the torch toward a paper bag, collecting a whoosh of seed. The process was graceful enough that the stem didn’t kink.

It still stands today.  There’s even an occasional flower that opens near the top.
I’m leaving it to stand.
My sentinel on our hillside.
Who knows, it might even hold up as winter interest.
And hopefully, in the spring, there will be just a few more on our rocky slope…  I dunno, am I crazy to invite them in?

-30-

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