Verbascum Blattaria (Yellow Moth Mullein)

Elizabeth Wharton and Margaret Wharton1793/1811

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Oak Spring Garden Foundation
Upperville, Virginia, United States

An upper class woman, Elizabeth Wharton and her sister Margaret together produced four volumes of botanical works dating from 1792 to 1827, illustrating British seaweeds, grasses, and flowers. Most specimens are labeled with their respective binomial nomenclature, suggesting some interest in scientific pursuit rather than merely artistic pursuit. For the most part, it seems that Elizabeth created art while Margaret contributed her work intermittently.
Part of the Wharton sisters’ first of two volumes on British flowers, Elizabeth Wharton’s Verbascum Blattaria depicts a close examination of both the weed’s raceme (unbranched axis adorned with flowers at almost equal intervals) and its leaves. The illustrations utilize the page’s space to its fullest and subsequently invite close observation of the plant. In the bottom left corner, Elizabeth Wharton includes anatomical drawings of the weed’s flowers. These smaller drawings draw attention to the reproductive elements of the organism, leaving what would have otherwise been strikingly yellow petals uncolored. The inclusion of anatomical drawings suggests an interest in the plant beyond its easily observable characteristics.
Verbascum Blattaria, referred to as Yellow Moth Mullein by Elizabeth, is a biennial herb. It has medicinal uses, like many of the sisters’ scientific paintings. It grows up to 5 feet high, with a single erect and slender flowering stem. In this work, Elizabeth Wharton mimics the bright yellow color of the petals, and the complimentary violet color of the flower’s hairs. She captures the glabrescent, almost hairless, nature of the flowering stem and includes illustrations of both the bottom and upper views of the plant’s leaves. Elizabeth separates the upper portion of the long raceme from its leafy bottom, suggesting an effort to capture the strikingly slender nature of the flowering stem separately from the large leaves protruding from the stem further down the plant.


  • Title: Verbascum Blattaria (Yellow Moth Mullein)
  • Creator: Elizabeth Wharton, Margaret Wharton
  • Date Created: 1793/1811

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