Friday, August 17, 2012

Late summer blooming

Common mullein
I’ve always liked mullein flowers. I don’t know why. Partly it has to do with the size of the stalk they are on. The plant in this photo is a good 5 ft. tall, and the flowering end is about a foot long. The flowers have a lovely scent, though you have to put your nose right up to the flowers in order to smell it—at least if you’re a human. Beware of bees around mullein. They apparently like that scent too.

Mullein is an introduced plant, though it’s been here as long as the first settlers and long enough for Native Americans to find herbal uses for it. Typically, it’s still referred to as a “weed” that inhabits “waste areas,” and that just sounds so derogatory and insulting to me. The flowers don’t all bloom at once, which probably limits its appeal somewhat. In today’s photo, I would say that more than an average number of the flowers are blooming at once on this plant. Sometimes I can only find 3-4 blooms on the stalk. The others are either not out yet or over with.

American goldfinch and indigo buntings don’t mind that the plant isn’t a native. They are happy to eat the seeds. Some insects are said to use the plants as a winter shelter, burrowing deep inside the brown stalks.

Around Roundtop, the blooms typically appear now, so it’s a late summer bloomer. And if you’re keeping track, a mullein in bloom is yet another sign that the summer season is past its midpoint.

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