Mulleins

(Question)

The attached jpeg shows four mulleins which came to visit our back garden, unannounced, and are providing a stately backdrop for the old garden chair. I do not know if you would call them wild flowers or just weeds. This type of mullein seems to be the variation of choice found along railway tracks etc. around Georgetown. I do not know if they are annual or biannual. When they first appeared, we mowed carefully around them and awaited developments. They have sprouted in a dry, neglected strip of back yard which is never watered artificially. When not surrounded by the usual wild field growth, they stand out even more starkly and are giving us a great deal of unplanned pleasure. I understand that certain birds enjoy dining on their seeds in the fall. I would like to harvest some of the seeds, to encourage the mullein colony, but I have no idea how or when. When they turn into “brown broomsticks”, I assume one simply cuts them off at the base, turns them upside down and whacks the seeds into a pail, but timing may be of the essence, since they should be fully ripened but not completely eaten. Then, I guess one simply scatters them on the ground around. Please advise.

(Answer)

 

Thank you for your inquiry.

Mulleins, Verbascum, are not a native plant.  It can be perennial or biennial but rarely annual.  There are some 360 species; the four most common in Ontario are

For more information, please go to: http://ontariowildflowers.com/main/group.php?id=17

From your picture, it would appear yours is the Common mullein, a biennial.

Mulleins are self-seeding and some describe  them as invasive and naturalizing so it should not be difficult to encourage your mullein colony!

The fruit is a dehiscent capsule, which splits open at maturity to release its numerous minute seeds.

You can either let this happen naturally  in the fall or you can harvest the seeds in the fall, store them over-winter and plant them in the spring. If you  decide to harvest the seeds, you will want to harvest the fruits just before the  capsule breaks open. Once collected, the seeds should be allowed to dry then stored in a cool dry place at about 20 degrees C. for 6 months before they are planted the next year.  For more detailed instructions on how to collect seeds, please refer to the attached link:

http://www.msuextension.org/publications/YardandGarden/MT199905AG.pdf

In the spring, the seeds should be surface sowed (covered by only a very thin layer of soil) and exposed to light.  They should germinate within 3 months.

Happy Gardening!