What’s That Pretty Yellow Flower?

What’s That Pretty Yellow Flower?

I get more questions about Verbascum creticum than almost any other plant in the Spring garden. It is not common around SoCal, but I think it should be because it is so lovely and is a great low water plant for the flower garden. Unfortunately for gardeners, biennials are not something garden centers offer for sale very often. Most of its life, Verbascum creticum plants are just plain looking little flat rosettes of green leaves. However, when the plant is flowering, it is stunning!

Its ultimate height varies from 3 feet to 5 feet tall and is 12 inches to 24 inches wide. It gets dozens of two inch buttery yellow blooms along tall stems that grab the attention of fellow gardeners, passers by, and especially the bees. The plants begin blooming as early as April and can go to end of June around here, but the vast majority of the blooms are in May.

Verbascum creticum not weedy
This is one of my nicest looking plants this Spring. It was planted more than 17 months ago so it turned out to be an outstanding example of Verbascum creticum. While it was a flat rosette it was a bit hidden, but once Spring came it took off and has been competing for space with an Unknown Pastilliere Fig espailler and a canna.

In my opinion, not all verbascum species are as garden worthy, and some look downright weedy. I have grown a few other species of verbascums, but none that I like near as much as this one. Another nice one, “Southern Charm” Verbascum hybrid, is a short lived perennial, but not near as magnificent in bloom. Verbascum creticum has the largest flowers of any verbascum I have seen, and up close the flowers are super cute, looking a bit like the cartoon face of Yosemite Sam, according to Annies Annuals in Richman. I bought a couple of 4 inch plants of Verbascum ‘Cotswold King’ from there, in December one year and they bloomed by the following May. Because I liked the plants so much and I have been unable to find any place to the buy seeds in the United States, I started saving my own seeds.

seeds of verbascum cotswold king
A closer view of the flowers on Cotswold King Verbascum

It is technically a biennial, which means it grows one year, then blooms the next, goes to seed, and dies. When the plant is slowing down, it can be cut back to try to get a few more bloom stalks. However, the resulting blooms are shorter, brief, and few. Typically, the plants are just done and don’t flower anymore. I have had a few that behaved more like annuals that were started in Fall and then flowered by May, completing their life cycle in 9 or 10 months, however, they were not near as impressive as the ones that take longer to flower.

One verbascum plant can make thousands of seeds, but this species hasn’t been a weed in my yard so far. Because it is native to a similar Mediterranean climate, it may have the potential to become a garden escapee. If self sowing is unwanted, cutting off the faded flower stalks, or even just pulling out the whole plant would easily prevent any problems.

To save the seed, the plants have to be allowed to go through a really ugly phase where the seeds ripen on the plants. This means I had to put up with tall garden eyesores for about a month, waiting for it to turn all brown. Once the stems were done drying up on the plants, I stored the cut stems in a brown paper grocery bag in the garage until the hard round seed capsules opened in the late fall. I tried to open a few dried pods prematurely, but they were really hard and it required pruners or a hammer. I eventually sowed my saved verbascum seeds on the surface of a few cell packs during late fall and then planted the seedlings around the garden in early winter.

The next year, when I cut the dried flower stalks off, I decided to see what would happen if I just laid one on the surface of the soil where I wanted a new patch of Verbascum plants to come up. The seed pods on that stalk opened sometime on their own during the fall, and winter rains watered them in. Dozens of seedlings germinated in that area. Any unwanted seedlings were easy to thin and weed out, but I also carefully pricked plenty of them out and moved them to better locations. Fortunately, seed doesn’t need to be saved that often. Verbascum seeds can remain viable for a really, really long time, at least decades! Common mullein, Verbascum thapsus, has seed banks estimates of about 100 years. They require light to germinate, so tilling the soil or leaving the soil bare without mulch would give them the opportunity to sprout.

Our pet chickens and the desert tortoise have not shown any interest in eating the verbascum plants. It is diffinately unpalable. But they also seem to avoid a lot of plants since they have plenty pet friendly plants that I intentionally grow for them to forage on, like hollyhock, gazania, clarkia, dicondra, and Bermuda grass.

Verbascum creticum Cotswold King Yellow flowers
The verbascum in the front yard parkway bed are still flowering, but the pink poppies are done. I was thinning out the bed this weekend. The Papaver somniferum poppies are brief but beautiful when they bloom. This photo was taken in the first week in May.

The Verbascums will probaly be flowering another week, maybe two at the most. Some of front yard annual Spring flowers have already faded and are begining to die back, like the Papaver somniferums and some of the earlier blooming Sweet Peas. I have been busy pulling out plants and am starting to transplant heat loving plants like Cuphea llavea, zinnias, and Tithonia plants that I started from seeds. These are getting popped in where there are gaps left behind. Once all the Verbascum creticums are done, I will pull them out, too, and plant some sunflowers in many of the empty spots. I also recently sowed seeds of gaillardia, flowering tobacco, and cosmos and will hopefully have them ready to move into the garden soon, too.

I hope you enjoy some time in the garden. What are you planting right now?Thanks for visiting.

2 thoughts on “What’s That Pretty Yellow Flower?

    1. The last part is still being regularly used by the dog for lounging on and the tortoise to munch on. I removed about 75% of the area. Round Up would have been so much faster. I still have to finish, but it was nice to get the veggies into the area that was already finished. I think it will be worth it if we get to harvest anything other than tortoise forage.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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