Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh


Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria)

These stately, slender perennials have lately become favorites in the garden trade. In the wild, they grow white or yellow flowers. The yellow flowers seem to be more common in most places, but the white ones (var. albiflorum, according to Gray) are far more common in Pittsburgh. Gardeners have bred a number of attractive pastels. A close look (click to enlarge the picture above) reveals the “filaments all bearded with violet wool,” as Gray describes them.

The plants like to grow in a clear spot at the edge of the woods, as they did here on a hillside in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming in the middle of July.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

VERBASCUM [Tourn.] L. MULLEIN. Calyx 5-parted. Corolla 5-lobed, open or concave; the lobes broad and rounded, a little unequal. Style flattened at the apex. Capsule globular, many-seeded. Tall and usually woolly biennial herbs; the leaves of the stem sessile, often decurrent. Flowers in large terminal spikes or racemes, ephemeral, in summer. (The ancient Latin name, altered from Barbascum.)

V. blattaria L. (MOTH M.) Green and smoothish, or somewhat glandular-pubescent above, slender; lower leaves petioled, oblong, doubly serrate, sometimes lyre-shaped, the upper partly clasping; raceme loose, the pedicels longer than the fruit; filaments all bearded with violet wool. Roadsides and waste places, w. Me. to Ont., and southw., local. Corolla either yellow, or (in var. albiflorum Ktze.) white with a tinge of purple. (Nat. from Eu.)

In Wild Flowers Worth Knowing, the Moth Mullein is described thus:

Moth Mullein

Verbascum blattaria

Flowers–Yellow, or frequently white, 5-parted, about 1 in. broad, marked with brown; borne on spreading pedicles in a long, loose raceme; all the filaments with violet hairs; 1 protruding pistil. Stem: Erect, slender, simple, about 2 ft. high, sometimes less, or much taller. Leaves: Seldom present at flowering time; oblong to ovate, toothed, mostly sessile, smooth.

Preferred Habitat–Dry, open waste land; roadsides, fields.

Flowering Season–June-November.

Distribution–Naturalized from Europe and Asia, more or less common throughout the United States and Canada.

“Of beautiful weeds quite a long list might be made without including any of the so-called wild flowers,” says John Burroughs. “A favorite of mine is the little Moth Mullein that blooms along the highway, and about the fields, and maybe upon the edge of the lawn.” Even in winter, when the slender stem, set with round brown seed-vessels, rises above the snow, the plant is pleasing to the human eye, as it is to that of hungry birds.


Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

These intensely blue flowers are so tiny that we often overlook them in our lawns, but they are one of the first cheerful signs of spring. They are alien invaders, and perhaps they have caused untold damage to our environment; but it’s hard to be angry at a plant that’s both tiny and beautiful. These plants were blooming in early May along the Salamander Trail in Fox Chapel..

The flowers of the Persian Speedwell have yellow centers, fading to white veined with blue, the blue predominating toward the outer edges of the petals, and giving the overall impression of a blue flower from a short distance. The leaves are roundish, sessile near the top of thestem and on short petioles below, gently toothed, somewhat hairy. The plant seldom exceeds the height of a few inches, and can often pass unmolested under a lawnmower blade.

This description will have to do, since Gray and his contemporaries did not describe the plant. Between their time and ours it has spread to every state in the union except Hawaii and North Dakota.

English Plantain

These ubiquitous weeds are found in every lawn, in sidewalk cracks, along the edge of the street, and anywhere else they can gain a foothold; these particular plants were growing along the roadside in Highland Park, where they were blooming in the middle of June. They are actually relatives (according to modern genetic studies) of our garden snapdragons, to which, however, they bear little superficial resemblance. The unmistakable flower heads look like some imaginative artist’s conception of plant life on another planet. A tea made from the leaves supposedly has benefit against coughs, but as with all herbal medicines that have not been adequately studied, one must place a heavy emphasis on the word “supposedly.”

Gray describes the genus and the species:

PLANTÀGO [Tourn.] L. PLANTAIN, RIBWORT. Calyx of 4 imbricated persistent sepals, mostly with dry membranaceous margins. Corolla salver-form or rotate, withering on the pod, the border 4- parted. Stamens 4, or rarely 2, in all or some flowers with long and weak exserted filaments, and fugacious 2-celled anthers. Ovary 2 (or in P. decipiens falsely 3-4)-celled, with 1-several ovules in each cell. Style and long hairy stigma single, filiform. Capsule 2-celled, 2-several-seeded, opening transversely, во that the top falls off like a lid and the loose partition (which bears the peltate seeds) falls away. Embryo straight, in fleshy albumen. — Leaves ribbed. Flowers whitish, small, in a bracted spike or head, raised on a naked scape. (The Latin name.)

P. lanceolàta, L. (RIB GRASS, RIPPLE GRASS, ENGLISH P.) Mostly hairy; scape grooved-angled, at length much longer than the lanceolate or lance-oblong leaves, slender, 2-7 dm. high; spike dense, at first capitate, in age cylindrical; bracts and sepals scarious, brownish ; seeds 2, hollowed on the face. — Very common in grass land. (Nat. from Eu.)