The mullein moth and flower

David Chapman / 25 August 2015

David Chapman introduces the beautiful mullein flower, and the moth larvae you may spot on it.

I'm a really keen wildlife gardener and I must confess that my motivation is partly selfish.

It gives me great satisfaction to wander around our garden and smallholding looking for new flowers and animals.

One of my favourite flowers is that of the mullein, or verbascum. In fact, I love mullein leaves as much as I do its flowers, my wildflower book describes them as being covered in a "thick white woolly down" and after rain these leaves become a maze of beautiful water droplets.

Mullein isn't a small, shy retiring plant, it's big and bold, in a small garden just one plant might be enough but we are lucky enough to have space for more. Nevertheless I have found only two plants this year, mullein is quick to take advantage of disturbed ground so maybe I need to get the hoe out more often.

Of our two mulleins I noticed, last week, that one was coming into flower and looking in robust good health, the other was looking a bit ragged and torn. I looked a bit closer and found several caterpillars (technically larvae when talking about moths rather than butterflies) of a moth known aptly as the mullein moth, Shargacucullia verbasci.

As an adult moth it is rarely seen but is found on the wing during April and May. The bright yellow, black and white larvae are easier to spot and are seen busily feeding in July, not just on mullein but they will also eat the leaves of figwort (the family of flowers to which mullein belongs) and buddleia.

To encourage mulleins into your garden, read our guides to growing verbascum and buddleja.

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