Common mullein, also known as wooly mullein, is a common sight throughout the Folsom Lake State Recreation area. It’s an invasive weed that originally came from Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They tend to like open areas where the ground has been disturbed, and seeds can germinate even after many years of lying dormant — in fact, reading through my linked source I found that “viable seeds have been found in soil samples archaeologically dated from A.D. 1300!” Historically, mullein has been used as an herbal remedy, and the flowers can be a source of yellow, green, or brown dyes.
I had been noticing these cuddly looking plants for years as I explored the areas around Folsom Lake and the American River, but it took me a few years to finally identify them. I was especially impressed by the size of the one I found recently at New York Creek; I didn’t have a good way of measuring it, but check out the final image below, where I used my memory card to provide a sense of scale.
It’s easy to tell the difference between Common mullein and Moth mullein, which also grows in our area, by checking the position of the flowers. Common mullein’s flowers grow from the top of the plant, while each of the Moth mullein’s flowers projects from its own small stalk up and down the length of the plant.