Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Carrying a bomb"

"My own favorite of the mulleins I know is called Verbascum bombyciferum, which possibly means 'carrying a bomb', though my Latin was never very good. It is well suited to the modern garden"* (The Essential Earthman, Henry Mithell). I was smitten by this most amazing mullein long before I read Mitchell's quote, but knowing the earthman appreciated this plant only reaffirmed my affection. I have shown pictures of verbascums quite often on Prariebreak--several shots in my most recent posting and in at least one more extended post "Pax Verbascum". I seem to keep acquiring new species and better pictures of the plants--and a full scale update is due before long, but I should linger a bit on this one--which is sort of a signature plant of my garden. Above you can see that even as first year rosettes they make quite a statement!

As the flowering stems spindle up, they impress even more: the multiple headed one in the middle is undoubtedly a hybrid--real bombyciferum doesn't branch like that! This sort of variability only adds interest!

The show gets more dramatic as the butterfly blossoms open up!

They remind me a bit of a corps of ballet...albeit with very saggy tutus.

The flowers are really quite large--and usually buzzing with bees. In the morning, however (the petals shrivel and drop in the afternoon).

One year they seem to grow unusually tall...

And here one at Denver Botanic Gardens germinating in the rock--much as they do in nature (see the last shot!)...

 I have thinned out this colony and planted more and more of these out on the street: they do suck up a lot of space in what I'd like to be a more diverse garden. So this is a bit of a memorial to this wonderful planting in the "West Ridge" (which is SUPPOSED to be Western American plants)...I've left a few for 2017, but by 2018 this cottony madness will have been exiled to the periphery of my better visit next summer if you want to see the last blast of the bombers!

Bob Beer photographing V. bombyciferum in the wild, on Uludağ (Hüseyin Özpehlivan.)
 And now my great confession: in early July of 2015 I was on a trip to study the flora of the two "Olympuses" of ancient Greece: one of the goals of visiting the Turkish Olympus (Ulu dag) was to find and photograph one of its most famous endemics, namely our little bomb bearer...

Sure enough, our very first day in Bursa, we took the Teleferik up Uludağ  and there below the gondala were hundreds--nay thousands!--of V. bombyciferum in glorious bloom up the mountain. Did I take a picture? Why bother--surely we'll see some more. We proceeded to spend several more days driving all over Ulu Dag: we saw half a dozen mulleins there, including the glorious V. olympicum by the million, but nary another bombyciferum anywhere else on the mountain. By the time I realized my omission (we could have just gone back to the Teleferik), it was too late--we were on our way to Kazdağı

Fortunately, my friend Bob Beer who accompanied us that summer had been on the mountain a few years before and took these pictures of the plant in the wild. Sadly, the fate of this plant and Turkey are clouded by its very name: the benighted government has been so oppressive that any number of bombs have been going off around the country, triggering fear among tourists, and crippling the hospitality industry in this important recreational destination...

Verbascum bombyciferun on Uludağ

 And this is the plant that Bob was photographing  on Uludağ ...a fitting end, I think!

There are several other Verbascum spp. with gorgeous silvery leaves and many with marvellous flowers, but none carry so potent a "bomb" in the garden as this cottony marvel...

*I'm sure Henry knew enough Latin to know that the "bombus" of bombyciferum is cotton and not a bomb! It is "cotton bearing" and not "bomb bearing"! Just to clarif y a tad!


  1. Popular here in the Bay Area too, especially thanks to nurseries like Annie's Annuals Nursery. This species is stunning, and works just as well with a mix of succulents from Mexico, South Africa and the Canaries. But they can be a bit touchy here if we get a lot of heavy rain without let up. I lose some to rot occasionally.

  2. What a treat to see them massed. I've got one lonely rosette growing for this summer -- and barely have space for the one!

  3. I have a six foot tall one growing in my wild garden in Lincolnshire England.



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