Verbascum pulverulentum

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaScrophulariaceaeVerbascumVerbascum pulverulentum


This monocarpic perennial is found on roadside verges and railway banks, in old quarries and gravel-pits, in hedge banks, rough ground, and locally on coastal shingle (its only `natural` habitat). Outside its core area it is usually a casual of waste ground. Seed remains viable for many years and new populations can appear after soil disturbance. Lowland.



World Distribution

Submediterranean-Subatlantic element.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.4

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.1

Annual Precipitation (mm): 624

Height (cm): 135

Perennation - primary

Biennial, including monocarpic perennials

Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 51

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.94

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Verbascum pulverulentum Villars

Hoary mullein

Status: scarce


The only natural habitat for this species in East Anglia is the coastal shingle bank on the eastern shores of the Wash. However, it is also found in carstone and gravel pits, on roadside verges and railway banks and on waste ground. It may have been spread to some of these localities with gravel. Outside its main area of regular distribution, plants occur as casuals, but rarely persist long unless they find a really suitable habitat. One place where they have done this is by a railway line in Norwich where a fine colony persists. 

V. pulverulentum is usually described as a biennial, but it really acts as a monocarpic perennial, taking from two to four years to build up a sufficient rosette for successful flowering, Seeds germinate freely within weeks of falling from the plant and quickly make flat rosettes which remain evergreen during the winter. Plants which have their main stem damaged, and this is a not infrequent occurrence, throw up many new shoots from the leaf axils and will flower and fruit.

In north-west Norfolk V. pulverulentum has become reduced in number. It was formerly found on many roadsides where the plants were often cared for by local roadmen, but they do not survive well with modern mechanical cutting. Field headlands also supported many plants but again these no longer survive. Their seed, however, seems long-lived as the site of a roadside pipeline was covered in rosettes the following spring in a site where they had not been seen for some years. At present they are safe in the Snettisham Country Park and are to be found in the area wherever there is suitable bare ground. They are distinctive enough for several non-botanical people to take an interest in them: one fine colony lies behind a garage, whose owner is very proud of them, so they are in no danger.

V. pulverulentum is a native of south-western Europe, not occurring further north than the Netherlands, nor further east than the Rhineland. It is just possible that it is not completely hardy in severe winters and this may help to explain the fluctuations in its appearance away from the coastal fringe.

For a detailed account of the distribution of this species, with lists of associated species, see Parker (1985).


G. Beckett

Atlas text references

Atlas (221b)
de Bolòs O, Vigo J
1995.  Flora dels Països Catalans, III. Pirolàcies-Compostes.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.