a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

In praise of Mullein


We have lots of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in the garden.  It self seeds, but the small seedlings are easily transplanted in the autumn to a more appropriate site.

All the Mullein plants do not have a happy life.  This year the caterpillars have ravaged quite a few.  Some were able to make a come back, others not.

The more voracious caterpillars continued to devour the plants right to their almost flowering buds.

The caterpillar becomes very large and fat and is easily recognised.

Swallow tail butterfly – Papilio machaon

Please see Malcolm’s comment below.  The caterpillars on the Mullein are from Mullein moths! I have had Swallow tails on my fennel previously and have confused these fat caterpillars although the colour is different.   

They are also a wonderful source of pollen for bees.  They have to get up early to get the most plentiful offerings of pollen.  By the afternoon there is not much action on the flowers.  But new flowers open each day.

It is not just honey bees that use the Mullein flowers to provide pollen other bees gather the bright orange pollen too.

You can see how tiny this bee is by comparing with the size of the stamens.

The flowers have been used to make herbal cough syrups but they have to be carefully gathered as the duvet on the leaves and stem can be irritating to the throat if mixed in with the flowers.  The infusions are also supposed to be beneficial for the throat and coughs but need  to be filtered carefully.  I have not tried gathering the flowers but leave them for the bees.

I was pleased to see that our neighbour has left a Molene standing proudly beside their drive.  Every little helps and in our dry, chalky soil it makes a very easy architectural plant.


Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

18 thoughts on “In praise of Mullein

  1. Hi Amelia,
    I think your caterpillars are Mullien Moths. They are as bright as Swallowtails, only the adult is a dull brown moth not a beautiful butterfly. But let’s not judge them on that – they’re also wonderful creatures. Swallowtails feed on umbellifers, and love fennel – so if you plant some of that I’m sure you will attract them.
    Cheers, Malcolm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m in the Vaucluse and don’t seem to have mullein. I do have umbellifers, and fennel, but have never seen these caterpillars or moths — not that I’d be particular impressed by another brown moth …. the moths I really like are the hummingbird moths. I had a lot when I lived in a village in the haut languedoc, and I have a few here in the Vaucluse, but I believe their caterpillars feed on what we call in English bedstraw. I used to pull it out, but now leave it for them.
      bonnie near carpentras

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Malcolm! I have had Swallow tails on my fennel which self seeds in with the vegetables. Now we have a giant fennel in the front garden so perhaps I will see them on that too this year. Must remember that it is Mullein moths that breed on the Mullein. Amelia


  2. I like their white/gray furry leaves! We don’t seem to have them here in the Vaucluse, but I had them in the Herault. The sacrifice is worth those swallowtails!
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A flower is a weed until someone loves it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Do you get wool carder bees in the garden, the mullein looks ike it might be good for them?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have the same “problem “ too. I love moths and I love mulleins! Some years the moths get them, some years I get them. C’est la vie!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How odd to see that so far away. It is an invasively naturalized exotic species here, but some of us really like it. I do not cut it down at the farm unless it is in the way. I don’t mind is much there because it has no place to go. I mean, it will not spread into the forest above. It is therefore sort of contained.

    Liked by 1 person

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