Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Mullen

I found out what that large, soft-leafed plant is, thanks to the Ziniker ladies!
Apparently this plant runs rampant in Bend, OR.

The Mullen-The leaves are soft and velvety. The Native Americans used this plant as bandages for wounds. The Romans dipped the leaves in grease and used them for torches. Native Americans and colonists used the leaves to line their shoes to protect their feet from cold weather. The leaves were also boiled to make a tea that was used to cure earaches.
It sounds quite useful, but I think I need to give my irises some more space of their own!
AND! Through the wonder of the internet, you all can learn more than you ever wanted to know about the mullen plant as well:


Most of the familiar or useful plants have had their origin or characteristics accounted for by myths or legends, whereby the ignorant and superstitious have attempted to explain such features as attracted their attention. Some of these ideas were creditable to the plant, while others were quite the contrary. The Mullen appears to have led a dual existence, seeking an alliance with the spiritual world and at the same time aiding and abetting the witches in their nefarious undertakings.

A very pretty story concerning the Mullen is attributed to the American Indian, but in some regards it seems to be a variant of the Scandinavian Tree of Life myth. It appears that the Great Spirit of the red men lived at the top of a high tree whose branches reached to the heavens; as no mortal could attain to this high attitude, a spirit of the woods, in the guise of a beautiful maiden, took pity upon the people and so fashioning a ladder from the stems of the wild grape vine, she fastened it to a star. In order that the Great Father might not be disturbed, the fair sylvan carpeted the steps of the ladder with the velvet leaves of the Mullen, upon which she noiselessly ascended and descended, bearing the petitions of the red men or bringing to them advice or admonitions.

Of the one hundred and twenty-five species of Mullen that are native to the old world, five have become naturalized in the United States. The Great Mullen (Verbascum thapsus), so familiar in dry, open fields, was originally christened by Pliny and has since received over forty English names of a less classical origin and significance. The name Verbascum is supposed to be derived from Berbascum, meaning a beard. Pliny doubtless selected this name, either because of the hairs on the stems of the plants or on account of the silky character of the leaves. The specific name, thapsus, is said to have been added, as the plants grew in considerable numbers in the vicinity of Thapsus.

One of the significant but impracticable common names of the Great Mullen is Hag-taper. The plant gained this unpleasant appellation by reason of the fact that if any one steps on a young Mullen plant after sundown, the witches will ride him as a horse until morning, lighting the way with Mullen stalks used for torches.

These torches were also employed at the meetings of the hags and witches, when the leaves of the plant were an important element in the concoctions prepared in their cauldrons. Another name is Hare's Beard, illustrating a class of plants that have weird names because of some fancied likeness to animals. The name Cow's Lungwort, arose from the resemblance between the leaf and the dewlap of a cow, from which it was argued that the plant must be a specific for lung diseases. In England, where the Mullen is known as Blanket Leaf, the dried leaf is tied around the throat in cases of colds. It is believed that the leaf sets tip a mild irritation which will be beneficial. The dried stalks of the plants were often used for torches at funerals which gave rise to the names High or Hedge Torch. The Great Mullen varies in height from two to seven feet. The stem is stout, very woolly, with branching hairs. The oblong, Dale green, velvety leaves form a rosette on the ground or alternately clasp the stem. The flowers, which are about an inch in diameter, are clustered around a thick, dense spike, and have two long and three short stamens, so arranged as to materially assist the process of cross fertilization which is largely carried on by bees. It is interesting to note in connection with the thick woolly covering of the plant that many vegetable forms are so protected when exposed to intense heat or cold. This is true of most alpine and desert forms and the value of such a protection to the Mullen will be seen when it is remembered that the plants are always found in open, dry, stony fields exposed to the fierce heat of the sun, and afforded no protection for the rosettes of year old plants which must survive the winter in order to send up the flower stalk the second spring.

The Moth Mullen (Verbascum blattaria) is a far more attractive and graceful plant than the form previously described. The specific name was derived from the idea that the plant would kill the cockroach (Blatta). It was supposed that moths would not go near the plant, and it was quite a general custom in New England to pack these plants or flowers with clothing or furs in order to keep out moths. The stamens are similar to those of the Great Mullen, except the filaments are tufted with violet hairs. The flowers are yellow or white on long, loose racemes. The erect, slender stem is usually about two feet in height, and as a rule there are no leaves present at the flowering time.

1 comment:

Shana said...

So glad Mom could help you out with the name and hey, Sean and I weren't too far off! :)