Mullein, also known as Verbascum thapsus, is a tall flowering plant in the family Scrophulariaceae. It’s prized for its medicinal properties and can be found growing wild all over the world.
It has an odd appearance, with leaves that look like fluffy white clouds and flowers that grow out of hairy yellow stalks.
Although it’s easy to confuse mullein with many other similar-looking plants, several weird and wonderful plants look just like mullein. Let’s take a look at some of these strange mimics.
3 Wonderful Plants That Look Like Mullein
1. Digitalis Purpurea
This plant has long, tubular flowers with petals that reach outward. Digitalis purpureas are one of several varieties of foxglove plants; you may also hear them called deadly nightshade. (The name is something of a misnomer-foxgloves are toxic, but they won’t kill you.)
Foxgloves were originally used to treat heart conditions and digitalis is still used today in various heart medications. But if you do end up picking some foxglove, take care: Just a few leaves can be enough to cause hallucinations or convulsions.
And some varieties can even prove fatal. Even just breathing in pollen from Digitalis purpureae can cause an allergic reaction. So please, don’t touch.
They are perennials, which means they grow year after year. They do best in full sun or partial shade but can tolerate a variety of different growing conditions.
They grow from bulbs that spread underground, so you’ll need to plant them about 6 inches apart to give them room to spread. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of space for these plants-they can reach up to 3 feet tall.
If you live in an area with cold winters, dig up your plants before frost hits. Dig it up carefully and store it indoors over winter (or replant it if there’s still time). Once spring comes around again, replant them where you originally dug them up.
If you don’t get around to moving your digitalis before winter sets in, no worries-it will survive just fine through most winters as long as it doesn’t freeze solid.
2. Stachys Byzantina
If you look closely at Stachys byzantina, a flowering plant commonly called lamb’s ears, you might be forgiven for thinking you’re looking at mullein. Both plants have hairy leaves (which is probably why they look so similar) that grow in close together clumps.
Lamb ear can get as tall as six feet high, though it usually remains shorter than that; for most gardeners, its main use is for stabilizing soil. As a bonus, it has medicinal properties-it was once used to treat eye disorders and lung infections.
The whole plant is edible but beware: since it contains coumarin, which may cause liver damage if eaten in large amounts, only eat lamb’s ear in moderation. It’s also mildly toxic when ingested.
Lamb’s ear is a perennial plant that thrives in full sun to partial shade. It grows best in soil that’s rich in organic matter, so if you want to grow it in your garden, add compost before planting.
If you have sandy soil, mulch it with peat moss or other organic material. In addition to growing lamb’s ear from seed, you can also propagate it by division-simply dig up clumps of mullein-like plants during their dormant season (winter) and replant them elsewhere.
In both cases, plant them at least six inches apart from each other; for optimal results, water regularly until they’re established.
3. Symphytum Officinale
Commonly known as Comfrey, Symphytum Officinale is a hardy perennial herb that grows well in sandy soils. It prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade. The leaves are hairy on top while they are paler on their undersides, creating a two-toned effect.
Officinale’s roots were used in teas and lotions during medieval times for their purported anti-inflammatory properties; it is still sometimes used for its supposed healing powers to treat bruises, arthritis, broken bones, muscle strains, or sprains.
In addition to looking like mullein-it can also be mistaken for nettles or even buttercups. Comfrey is often found growing wild in temperate regions throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.
Its flowers are yellow and round with five petals each; blooming from June through August. A relative of Knapweed (Centaurea), comfrey has been listed as an invasive species by several states due to its tendency to spread quickly when planted near other plants.
As such, you should only plant comfrey if you have plenty of space available where it won’t get into other people’s gardens or wild areas. However, if you live somewhere without any native mullein plants nearby-comfrey might make a suitable substitute.
Comfrey is an easy plant to grow, making it a good choice for novice gardeners. It prefers well-drained soil but can tolerate poor soil as long as it’s not too dry.
The best time to plant comfrey is in spring or fall, but you can also plant it in summer if you have plenty of water available.
Comfrey does best when planted in groups of three or more plants; if planted alone, its leaves may get scorched by the hot sun.
Once your comfrey plants are established, they should only need watering once every few weeks during hot weather-but keep an eye on them so that they don’t wilt from lack of water.
How To Use Mullein?
Though it has a multitude of uses, perhaps its most impressive is as an expectorant-i.e., a way to loosen mucus in your chest and make it easier to cough up.
It can be used both internally and externally: Mix mullein leaves into soups or teas (but not those that are meant for young children), or steep them in warm water before applying directly to chest wounds or lesions.
Your mucus should begin to thin within 24 hours, but if you have any sort of breathing difficulty at all, seek medical attention immediately; if you do use mullein as an expectorant, however, discontinue use after two days as extended use can actually cause respiratory problems.
How To Identify Mullein?
The easiest way to identify mullein plants is by their leaves. All mulleins have lance-shaped leaves that are silver on top with fine hairs underneath. They can grow in clumps up to 6 feet tall, so their flowers may be hidden.
Mulleins usually blossom in July or August with clusters of yellow flowers that look like giant dandelions. While there are several different types of mulleins, all varieties share a similar appearance; what separates them is size and location.
How To Grow Mullein?
Mullein can be planted in spring or fall but does best when planted in early spring as it often takes until midsummer to get established. Although mullein prefers a full sun location, it will tolerate partial shade.
Placing a three-inch layer of compost on top of your soil prior to planting will encourage root growth and help your mullein establish quickly.
To prepare the soil, use a shovel or tiller to loosen up the earth, remove rocks if necessary and incorporate compost into the top six inches of soil. If you are planting seeds, mix them with some potting soil to provide some added nutrients during germination.
Water well after planting but do not overwater as excess moisture is harmful to roots. You should see the seedlings within one month if the conditions are right. Once your plants have grown to about four inches tall, they’re ready for transplanting.
Dig a hole twice as wide as your plant’s current size and place it at least two feet away from other plants (to avoid competition).
Place mullein in a hole so that its crown (the point where leaves emerge from stems) is level with the ground. Gently backfill around the plant and lightly tamp down the soil around its base; water thoroughly.
As you’ve just seen, there are many plants that look like mullein. This can be a fun game to play in a horticultural setting or with your kids.
There are so many different kinds of plants out there and they’re all very unique. Learning about them is as easy as taking a walk around your neighborhood.
So go outside, get some fresh air, and try to find one of these unique plants for yourself.