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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Most botanical references place the genus Mimulus in the Snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae; but modern genetic studies have persuaded botanists to remove it to the family Phrymaceae, the Lopseed family, which had previously had only one species in it.
Gray’s description of this species depends on his description of M. ringens, so we print that description in brackets:
MÍMULUS L. MONKEY FLOWER. Calyx prismatic, 5-angled, 5-toothed, the uppermost tooth largest. Upper lip of corolla erect or reflexed-spreading, 2-lobed; lower spreading, 3-lobed. Stigma 2-lobed; lobes ovate. Seeds numerous. — Herbs, with opposite (rarely whorled) leaves, and mostly handsome flowers. (Diminutive of mimus, a buffoon, from the grinning corolla.)
Corolla violet-purple (rarely white); erect glabrous perennials; leaves feather-veined.
[M. ríngens L. Stem square, 1 m. or less high; leaves oblong or lanceolate, pointed, clasping by a heart-shaped base, serrate; peduncles longer than the flower; calyx-teeth taper-pointed, nearly equal; corolla personate, 2-4 cm. long. — Wet places, N. B. to Man., and southw. June-Sept.]
M. alàtus Ait. Stem winged at the angles; leaves oblong-ovate, tapering into a petiole; peduncles shorter than the very short-toothed calyx; otherwise like the preceding. — Wet places, Ct. to s. Ont., Kan., and southw.