The Q&A Archives: What is it?

Question: I am trying to figure out what type of plant I have growing in my flower garden. It appeared last year, but we kept cutting it down. This year it came up again on its own and we let it grow to see what it would become. It has broad light-green leaves that are soft & velvety to the touch. It now stands around 4ft tall with a cone-shaped cluster of small yellow flowers. I have seen many similar plants near railroad tracks and it seems to like full sun. Although I see rabbits and deer traveling past it in the yard, there is no sign that they have tried to eat it. If you have any ideas about what plant this might be please let me know. Thank you very much.

Answer: Without actually seeing the plant, I can only offer an educated guess. If you see them growing in disturbed areas and wildlife isn't interested, it's probably very common and probably considered a weed. I think it is mullen.

Common mullein is a biennial that forms a rosette of basal leaves during its first year of growth. Rosette leaves can be over a foot long and are densely covered on both sides with soft hairs. As a result, leaves feel soft and wooly like flannel. Each rosette produces a solitary, erect, 2- to 8-foot tall flowering stem. Leaves located on the stem are wooly but smaller than rosette leaves and instead of having leaf stalks (petioles), they attach directly to the stem such that their base continues for a distance down the length of the stem producing a winged appearance. The top of the flowering stem is densely packed with 5-lobed, saucer-shaped, sulfur-yellow flowers. The species reproduces by seeds.

Root system - Common mullein forms fibrous roots and a deep taproot.
Seedlings and Shoots - The first two leaves are paired and minutely-hairy. Later leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node), wooly, and attached by way of flattened, hairy leaf stalks (petioles). During the first year, plants form a basal rosette that can be 30 inches wide and consists of many wooly, light green leaves.
Stems - The flowering stem is erect, rigid, up to 8 feet tall, and covered with wooly, branched hairs. Stems appear winged due to leaf bases that extend longitudinally down the stem. Although stems are solitary, they may have a few upright branches near the top.

Leaves - Leaves are densely covered on both sides with hairs giving them a frosted appearance and a flannel-like texture. Rosette leaves are oblong, 6 to 15 inches long, rounded at the tip, tapered at the base, and attached to the compressed stem of the rosette by way of short petioles. Leaves located on the flowering stem are alternate (1 leaf per node) and resemble rosette leaves except they become smaller and more pointed as their location gets closer to the top of the stem. Rather than having petioles, stem leaves attach directly to the stem such that their base extends for a distance down the stem giving it a winged appearance
Flowers - The sulfur-yellow (rarely white) petals are united at the base and deeply 5-lobed at the top forming a saucer-like shape less than 1 inch in diameter. The top of the flowering stem is densely packed with flowers, which lack stalks so they attach directly to the stem.

Fruits & Seeds - Fruits are downy capsules that are round and about ? inch in diameter. Each capsule splits when mature into 2 cells filled with numerous tiny, dark brown seeds. The surface of each seed is marked with wavy ridges.

Hope this describes your mystery plant.

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