Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Mullein is one of my favorite plants around the lake, I think because of its long-lasting presence. Even during the darkest of winter, one can find faded but living basal rosettes of leaves, waiting it out. During the first year of this biennial's life cycle, it spreads out a base of leaves, winters over, and come early summer throws out long-blossoming spikes. Notice how the flowers start from the base of the spike--they will work their way up over the summer. We'll take more looks at these as the season progresses.

Winthrop Packard expresses my sentiment all so well:

"Loveliest of all these now, and, indeed, the most germane to the spot, is the mullein. All winter long it has sat serene and self-sufficient, under the snow, armor-encased in pellucid ice, or in the bare, bitter nights when the stars of heaven were one solid coruscation of silver and the still cold bit very deep. Clad in kersey like the pioneer, its homespun clothing has defied the weather, holding the cold away from its thin leaf with all this padding of matted wool which makes the plant seem so rough and coarse. In the summer it will defy the fierce heat of the July sun with the same armor, sitting here with its feet in the burning sand and its tall spike tossing back the sunshine with a laugh from its golden efflorescence.

Like the pioneer, the mullein came from the Old World, well fitted to bear the rigors and defy the dangers of the New. Like him it took root, and its seed holds the land in the rough places, brave and beautiful, though rough-coated, tender at heart, and helpful always.

So, when the sun has gone over the western ridge and the north wind scouts have again mustered courage to invade the place, I leave the little hollow to the wilderness that still enfolds dreams of the one-time occupant. In its sheltered nooks some of the day's golden warmth will remain, even until the sun comes again. I cannot tell where my busy butterflies will spend the night, but if I were one of them I should flip back into the dooryard of the pioneer's homestead and cuddle down in the great heart of one of those rosettes of mullein leaves, there to slumber, warm and serene, wrapped to the eyes in its blankets of soft wool."

Packard, Winthrop. Woodland Paths. Boston, 1910. 150-2. Google Book Search. Web. 20 Jun 2009.

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