Verbascum nigrum is one of the most reliable and long-flowering varieties and one of the few truly perennial species of mullein. The variety ‘Album’ is the white-flowered form.
The plants grow to around 90 to 100cm (36 to 39in) tall with numerous erect spikes on each plant. They bloom profusely in late spring with masses of white flowers each with attractive violet filaments and accented by golden orange stamens. If deadheaded they will repeat flower throughout the summer.
This European native can be found on dry, stony hillsides and open woodlands, but plants are well-adapted to cottage, gravel, and rock gardens, or naturalised areas. Verbascum nigrum will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but must have good drainage. This low maintenance perennial requires dry to medium soil and should be planted in full sun for best results. It can be planted in rocky slopes to add colour, as a border plant or in cottage gardens.
Seeds sown in a cold frame in late spring to late summer produce rosettes of hairy, mid-green leaves and flowers the following year.
Verbascum don't last well as cut flowers so are best left for the garden. They bloom throughout the summer, with a few sporadic flowers still in September to early October. They work well with many planting schemes and are a good subject for the sunny border, cottage-style plantings, wildflower and gravel gardens.
From June to September, the five-petalled white flowers bloom randomly in the dense, club-shaped terminal cluster. The three upper stamens, which are short and woolly, contain a sap that lures many insects to the plant. The two lower stamens, which are longer and smooth, produce the pollen that fertilises the flower.
Bees absolutely adore this plant. First thing in the morning, the flowers are alive with bees getting on with their day’s work. Take time to stand and admire them for a few minutes. They will pay you no heed, they’re far too busy.
Sowing: Sow in spring or in autumn
If started as early as January, this strain usually blooms the first year from seed. Later sown seedlings will provide blooms the following year. Germination 7 to 21 days.
Seeds can be sown directly where they are to flower in either spring (two to four weeks before average last frost date) or in autumn (up to two months before first autumn frost) Sow thinly and thin seedlings to an eventual spacing of 38 to 45cm.
Sow 6 to 8 weeks before planting outdoors in April to May. The plants have a long tap root, so you may wish to use root trainers or long pots. Take care when transplanting. Sow in trays, pots, etc of good seed compost. Space 25mm (1in) between the seeds. Cover the seeds lightly with compost or medium-grade vermiculite to help keep the seed moist during germination. Avoid direct sunlight by shading seeds after sowing. Place in a propagator or warm place to maintain an optimum temperature of 15 to 18°C (60 to 65°F). Keep soil slightly moist but not wet.
Following germination, reduce the moisture levels somewhat, allowing the growing medium to dry out slightly before watering to help promote rooting. They are usually ready for transplanting in 5 to 7 weeks. Transplant into 10 to 18cm (4 to 7in) pot. Harden off and plant out when all risk of frost has passed 45cm (18in) apart in full sun.
Verbascum grows best under full sun in locations with moist but well drained soil; sites with poor drainage will most likely lead to plant mortality. They require a mulch in the winter for protection.
Verbascum is a moderate feeder. Growing them under high fertility regimes generally causes them to become very lush and delay flowering. Don't fertilise after mid Sept.
To encourage the plant to repeat bloom or extend the bloom season to late in the year, cut off the centre stalk after initial flowering, just to where you see side shoots emerging. Approx 4 to 5 weeks to the second flowering. It will also extend the life of your plant
These are evergreen plants; they keep their leaves year round, losing the aerial part during the coldest months of the year. As spring begins, stems and leaves quickly start to reproduce.
Deadheading the spent large stalks insures reflowering, but it's a good idea to let some go to seed so that there'll be new ones appearing for the future. Once you can recognise the small plants, they are easily transplanted to other parts of the garden. Use a trowel to scoop up a clump of seedlings, and then transplant the whole clump rather than fiddle with a single plant or two. Keep the patch watered for a few days and let the roots settle in. After a week or two, look for the strongest seedlings and then weed out the extras.
Border, Cottage Garden, Mediterranean or Gravel Garden. Exposed Coastal planting. Problem areas. Architectural. Drought, heat, deer, slug and snail proof.
Verbascum don't last well as cut flowers so are best left for the garden but they do make wonderful dried flowers. Pick the flowers as required and place the flowers face down on paper or racks away from light to preserve colour. They can also be used in potpourri.
Verbascum nigrum is an important plant for wildlife. The flowers are a good pollen and nectar source for a wide range of insects, particularly bees. Numerous seed-eating animals including birds such as the goldfinch feed on the massive number of small seeds produced and the dead flowering stems provide hibernation sites for over-wintering invertebrates.
Dark Mullein is also a food plant for the noticeable black and yellow spotted caterpillars of Cucullia verbasci, the aptly named 'Mullein Moth'.
There are about 300 species of Verbascum, including annuals, biennials and short-lived perennials, native mainly to Europe and Turkey, where they grow on poor, dry soils or recently disturbed ground.
Verbascum nigrum can be told apart from the slightly more common Verbascum thapsus, the Great Mullein in having hairy rather than woolly leaves. and in having purple rather than yellow stamens.
Native to the mountains of Greece. The genus name is likely to have derived from two Latin sources – ver meaning ‘spring’ and barbascum, which means ‘bearded plant’.
The species name nigrum is derived from the Latin for black, which refers to the colour of the roots. This has led to some confusion in the past, as the species has yellow flowers. In the English Botanist, written by James Sowerby it says By what figure of speech this beautiful plant can be called black, not having a particle of colour about it, we will not determine. All the old botanists, however have denominated it: and if they had any meaning, it can only have been that it was not white.
The varietal name Album is Latin for a ‘writing tablet’, which historically were white in colour. The word is now used to mean the colour white, in reference to the blooms.
Commonly called the Dark Mullein, Black Rooted Mullein or Tall Mullein, the name 'Mullein' is taken from the Latin 'mollis' meaning soft, referring to the leaves of the plant.
One of the old common names is ‘the candlewick plant’ because the large soft furry leaves were cut into strips, dried, and used as wicks for candles.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 50mg Average Seed Count 300 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 6,000 seeds per gram Family Scrophulariaceae Genus Verbascum Species nigrum var. album Common Name Dark Mullein Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus18°C (0°F) Natural Flower Time July to September. Foliage Basal rosettes Height 90 to 100cm (36 to 39in) Spread 40cm (16in) Position Full sun for best flowering Soil Well drained, lean well-drained gravelly soil