The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Mullein

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AmCyc Mullein - Common Mullein.jpg
Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

MULLEIN, the common name of verbascum thapsus, said to be derived from the Latin malandrium, a disease like leprosy, applied to this plant on account of its having been used for this and similar diseases in cattle. It is a common and troublesome plant in cultivated grounds and by roadsides in the older parts of the United States. The genus includes more than 80 species, which are widely distributed; it belongs to the family of figworts or scrophulariaceæ, and differs from most others of the family in having an open, wheel-shaped corolla. The common mullein is a biennial with radical leaves 6 to 12 in. long, oblong-acute, those of the stem smaller and decurrent at the base, forming wings upon the stem; the leaves and the stem, which is 4 to 6 ft. high, are clothed with a dense woolly pubescence, which gives the plant a hoary appearance; the flowers are collected in a dense spike, a foot or more long, the bright yellow corolla nearly equally five-lobed; stamens five, the upper three with bearded filaments; the fruit a thick, ovoid, two-celled capsule, containing numerous small seeds. The plant is found all over Europe and the temperate parts of Asia, and has long been naturalized in this country. Were it not a weed, the mullein would be valued as an ornamental plant, as a single well grown specimen is a stately object; but its chief importance is as a weed, and its presence indicates slovenly culture. Although it so abundantly seeds the ground, it is not difficult to eradicate if taken while young. The leaves have a mucilaginous and bitter taste, and slight narcotic properties, and have long been used in domestic medicine to allay coughs and other irritations, and externally as an emollient application to tumors, piles, &c.; on account of its use in diseases of cattle, one of its common names in England is bullock's lungwort. The down upon the leaves, when perfectly dry, makes a good tinder; the same substance served the ancient Greeks for lamp wicks, and the Romans dipped the stalks in suet to make funeral torches. High taper and hig or hag taper are old English names for the plant, and refer to its use in the incantations of witches. — Moth mullein (V. blattaria) is less common than the other, and more abundant in the eastern states than elsewhere; it is from 2 to 4 ft. high, with leaves and stem smooth and green; the flowers are in a leafy raceme, and yellow, or white with a tinge of purple; the filaments of the stamens are all bearded with violet-colored wool, which gives to the very ephemeral flowers no little beauty. This is also an introduced plant, having abroad an equally wide range with the preceding, and is of no other importance than as a weed for the farmer to get rid of. The white mullein (V. lychnitis) is of rare occurrence in Pennsylvania and New York; its stem and leaves are clothed with a thin, powdery pubescence, and its yellow flowers (only rarely white) are in a pyramidal panicle. It is also from Europe, where as well as here it hybridizes with the common mullein, and produces some puzzling intermediate forms. — Some species rank as ornamental plants, including V. Chaixii from the Pyrenees, which, unlike the others, is perennial; its abundant flowers are yellow, with a violet throat, and arranged in a large pyramidal panicle.