Flannel, Anyone?

While visiting the nearby prairie meadow this spring, I found an unusual wildflower. I had not seen this plant before and was unsure what it was, particularly since it was not budding or blooming yet:

Mullein wildflower plant


And here is a close-up of the plant’s leaves:

Mullein wildflower leaves


The leaves were very soft to the touch, and had lots of soft “hairs”. But still no idea what this was. Then, in early summer, I noticed a similar plant in the meadow … much larger than the ones I had seen in early spring, but very similar leaves:

Mullein wildflower plant


Did you notice the tall flower stalk that was standing above the plant? Here is a close look at the flower stalk, from a different plant in the area:

Mullein wildflower plant


In the last 2 photos, you can see a lot of dead branches around/behind this plant. These were killed when this prairie meadow underwent a “Prescribed”, or “controlled” burn (for more info on a prescribed burn, click on this link) in late winter/early spring. Here is a close-up photo of the flower stalk’s flowers:

Mullein wildflower - flower stalk


With all these images, I was then able to identify this unusual plant. It is a Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), commonly referred to as “the Flannel Plant”. This plant grows to 7-feet tall and the entire plant is densely hairy, hence the flannel plant. This plant is a biennial. During the first year, the plant’s leaves are basal only; the plant’s flower stalk rises during the second year. The basal leaves persist during the winter, on petioles to 1 foot long and are extremely hairy and soft. The stem leaves are progressively smaller toward the top, with leaf tissue continuing into the stem.

The Mullein was a very early immigrant. Indians smoked the leaves; an extract against respiratory problems was used by Indians and settlers; and settlers used the soft basal leaves for diapers … sort of a “grow your own Pampers” plant.

Now that I am aware of this plant, I have been seeing more of them along the country roadways. Although this plant may not be one of the most beautiful wildflowers around, they certainly are unique!

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