Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Beautiful Verbascum

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have sort of a "thing" about Verbascums, more commonly known as mulleins. Verbascum thapsus, introduced from Europe and now common throughout the United States, fascinated me as a kid with its densely furry rosettes. I didn't really care much about the flowers; the single yellow spike seemed almost a disappointment after the exotic prelude. It felt like it should do so much more!

Turkey is the center of distribution of the genus Verbascum, with some 75 or more species. Most, but not all, are furry, some densely so. Many do leave V. thapsus trailing in the dust when it comes to flowers, with as many as 100 spikes in dense candelabras. Their leaves are also extremely varied, with an indumentum ranging from thin and brown to dense, deep and white, some dull, some shimmering. Some have neat rosetts, others have contorted leaves that form an almost ball-like plant. The leaf margins of some are smooth, others are deeply convoluted, and others, like the one above, are delicately and exquisitely fluted. And it seems that wherever I travel in Turkey, I come upon a new one that I've never seen before. What I didn't expect was to find a new and beautiful one right in my own back yard! Well, at least in Istanbul's back yard; more specifically, on Kınalıada, the first of the Prince's islands off Istanbul's Asian coast.

I went with two friends the day before Easter, and took a hike around the back side of the island, taking pictures of wild flowers coming into bloom and collecting wild greens. And there, down near the sea, was a small patch of one of the most beautiful mulleins I think I've ever seen. Of course it's the one at the top of the article.

One extremely frustrating thing is finding a beautiful plant in some out of the way place that you'll probably never get back to and realizing that there won't be any seeds available until several months hence. But a very nice feature of mulleins is that their seed stalks tend to persist from the previous year, and very often there is still some seed to be found. I was lucky this time as well. There wasn't a lot of seed, but really, how many of a plant like this do you need?

If anyone knows the species of this particular plant, I'd love to know!

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