Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fuzzy wuzzy was a... plant?!

Are you familiar with the following children's rhyme?

Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?

Well, I'm here to tell you about something that definitely wuzzy fuzzy, but it's not an animal. It's a plant. The Common Mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus L.), to be exact. It has other common names, such as Flannel Plant, Velvet Plant, and Velvet Dock. The reason for this is quite plain: It is fuzzy and velvety and feels like something you would want against your skin on a cold winter day. I would say it equals in texture to the fleece half-zip pullovers that I wear so frequently when the mercury drops.

Here's some basic info about the plant:
Common mullein is an erect biannual herb growing 5-10 ft. in height. In the first year it produces a low vegetative rosette up to 24 in. in diameter, remains thought the winter, then produces a stout flowering stem in the succeeding growing season. The stem is densely woolly with branched hairs. Leaves are alternate, oblong-obovate to obovate-lanceolate, blue-grey green, woolly, and 4-16 in. long including the petiole, becoming progressively smaller up the flowering stem. Flowers are sessile, borne in long terminal spikes, bright yellow, and 1 in. in diameter with 5 fused petals. Fruits are woolly oval capsules that split open when mature releasing 100,000-180,000 wind- and animal-dispersed seeds from the parent plant that may remain viable in the soil for over 100 years. Common mullein prefers dry sandy soils, but can grow in chalk and limestone. It can be found in neglected meadows, forest openings, pastures, fence rows, roadsides, and industrial areas. Once established it grows quickly to form a dense ground cover, overtaking and displacing native species. At high densities, it appears to prevent establishment of native herbs and grasses following fires or other disturbances. (from a scary-sounding site called the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center)
Based on what we learned above, we can safely say that this is a mullein in its first year of growth. Come next year it will throw up a flower stalk that could grow to be taller than me! It's certainly not growing in dry sandy soil (heavy wet clay is more like it!), but it's in a forest opening, and runs along the edge of our driveway, which is kind of like a roadside, so I guess that's close enough.

Looks like someone's got a taste for fuzzy leaves!

What I love about this plant is that it is so obviously visible right now, and will most likely continue to be so throughout the winter. See, there's always something cool to find outside, no matter what time of year it is!

A close-up look at the fuzziness

Are you getting a feel for the fuzzy yet?

How about now?

On the left we have a full-grown Common Mullein plant, and on the right we have what I think is one after the flowers have bloomed and are in the process of setting their fruit.

After I photographed the huge leafy specimen featured in most of these pictures, I suddenly noticed LOTS of them lining the driveway, but they were all much smaller. I doubt that they will survive to flower and set seed, though, because Dave weed wacks along the driveway's edge periodically in the summer, so most will fall to the spinning twine. The large plant shown in this post, though, is on a slightly higher plane than the area that gets trimmed, so it may indeed get to go through its full life cycle.

Back to the fuzzy bear... Here's my new variation on the classic rhyme:

Fuzzy wuzzy was a plant,
Fuzzy wuzzy soft in hand;
Fuzzy wuzzy starts new life on our land.


James Brush said...

What awesome detail shots of this plant. I especially like the black and white ones. The grey tones are wonderful in those.

Ginnymo said...

These are awesome Heather!!!

Heather said...

James, Ginny - Thank you to you both. Glad you liked the shots.

Meg said...

Hi! Oh, your evening symphony post is so beautiful! I love listening to the sounds at dawn and dusk also. And it's so cool to read a description of the same things I hear! Makes me feel connected to like-minds and hearts : )
Common mullein--yep, got that, too! For a minute I thought it was lamb's ear planted by the old owners, but it isn't quite as soft as that. Perhaps lamb's ear is nature's cashmere, compared to the fleece of mullein! lol.

Meg said...

sorry--forgot to marvel at the fact that their seeds remain viable for more than 100 years--get out!

The Early Birder said...

Has many common names including 'Adam's-rod' or 'Feltwort' and another intruder that has conquered your shores.
Lovely pics Heather.

Heather said...

Meg - Thanks for your kind words. I've never actually felt lamb's ear... sounds like you're saying that lamb's ear is maybe smoother than mullein? I've read about quite a different number of plants that have seeds that can remain viable for many, many years. Survival of the fittest, you know...

Frank - Hmmm... "Adam's-rod." That's a much nicer sounding nickname than what I sometimes call it (not fit for print on this family-style blog!).

Carol Mattingly said...

Heather love these images. They make me feel so warm and fuzzy. Makes me want to be better at shooting macro but I'm just not that great at it. Carol

Heather said...

Carol - Good, the fuzzy translated through the images! I admire all your landscape shots, and landscape photography is something that I would like to improve upon, but I'm not so great with it right now. Macro is something I really love to do, so I spend most of my time working on that.

Susan C said...

I have one of these in my front yard. It just started growing last year. It is quite spectacular!

Heather said...

Susan - Thank you for stopping by. It really is quite an amazing plant. Somewhat easy to miss when just the leaf rosette is all there is to see, almost impossible to miss when it's in bloom!