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Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Turkey mullein  (Eremocarpus setigerus)

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Life stages of Turkey mullein flower seedling mature plant seeds

Turkey mullein is a summer annual broadleaf plant that grows in open, dry areas.  It is a native of California that usually requires a disturbance to establish and is found throughout to 3300 feet (1000 m), except for the Great Basin and central and eastern deserts. Turkey mullein is generally considered a desirable member of natural vegetation communities. Birds and small mammals depend on its seeds for food. Sometimes, however, it is problematic in agricultural land and other disturbed areas. Turkey mullein is killed by frost and grows poorly in wet areas. Livestock generally avoid turkey mullein when more suitable forage is present. When ingested, the fibrous, indigestible hairs can create blockages in the digestive track. Most problems occur when livestock eat contaminated hay. Leaves contain a substance toxic to fish and other compounds that discourage insect feeding.


Dry pastures, vineyards, orchards, rangeland, summer-fallowed fields, dry sandy washes, roadsides and other disturbed, unmanaged sites.


The cotyledons (seed leaves) are oval to egg shaped and covered with star-shaped hairs, which give the plant a gray-green, mealy appearance. The first few leaves are oval to heart shaped, densely covered with star-shaped hairs and larger than the cotyledons. Leaves are alternate to one another along the stem, are pale gray-green, and give off a strong scent when crushed.

Mature plant

The mature plant is low growing and often has a mounded shape from about 8 to 31 inches (20–80 cm) in diameter. Stems and leaves are densely covered with bristly, star-shaped hairs. The leaves are thick, oval to nearly round, and when crushed, have an unpleasantly sweet odor and a clear sap.


Flowers bloom from May through October. They are small, inconspicuous, lack petals, and arise in clusters at the tip of branches, or at the junction where the stem and the stalks of lower leaves meet.


Fruits are oblong, roughly 1/6 of an inch (4 mm) long, hairy, and have one chamber.


Seeds are oblong to egg shaped, with a rounded back. The surface is smooth, dark brown or black with a white to gray mottling, or gray with black stripes. Seeds are about 1/8 to 1/6 of an inch (3–4 mm) in length.


Reproduces by seed.

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