Verbascum lychnitis

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaScrophulariaceaeVerbascumVerbascum lychnitis


A biennial, or occasionally short-lived perennial, herb of dry, usually calcareous soil, occurring in rough pastures, recently cleared woodland, on railway embankments, tracksides and road verges and in quarries and waste places. Seed is copiously produced, and remains viable for many years. It freely hybridises with other Verbascum species. Lowland.



World Distribution

European Temperate element.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.1

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.5

Annual Precipitation (mm): 790

Height (cm): 150

Perennation - primary

Biennial, including monocarpic perennials

Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 42

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.23

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Verbascum lychnitis L.

White mullein

Status: scarce


Primarily a plant of waste places and disturbed ground, usually on calcareous soils, V. lychnitis often occurs in large numbers in recently-felled woodland, on railway embankments and on the verges of new roads or tracks. It often grows in association with arable weeds, and with other species of Verbascum with which it freely hybridises. 

V. lychnitis is usually regarded as a biennial, but observations on marked plants show that many produce a flower-spike in two successive years. It reproduces by means of its copious seed production. The seeds are able to remain viable for many years when buried in the soil. Felling of woodland and the dragging-out of timber can unearth seeds and cause large colonies to arise on disturbed ground. Such colonies decline again as other, more permanent, vegetation recolonises the area.

V. lychnitis requires periodic soil disturbance for its survival and occasional felling of woodland within its main areas of distribution appears to provide this. The native population increased markedly following the Great Storm of October 1987 and the subsequent clearance of uprooted trees.

Elsewhere in the world, V. lychnitis can be found in France, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Denmark and Morocco, and is naturalised in parts of Scandinavia and North America.

The British plants are normally white-flowered, but small numbers of yellow-flowered plants occur sporadically around Minehead on the north coast of Somerset, and as casuals or garden escapes in other parts of England, Scotland and Wales.


V. A. Johnstone

Atlas text references

Atlas (221a)
Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.