Reading the Signs: Verbascum thapsus

This summer was extremely hot and dry, and I found myself scouring various weather forecasts in my hope for a few drops of rain. Our weather forecasts are usually pretty accurate here, as we are quite far inland, and not directly near any mountain ranges. But long-term weather forecasting is trickier… unless you talk to Mr Sepp Haslinger, a pensioner from the south of Bavaria, who reads the signs of the Verbascum seedheads….


Native to Europe, commonly known in the UK as Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus can grow to up to 2 metres tall. The flowerheads start setting seed at the base, while the tops continue to grow and flower. By examining the development of these seadheads and flowers from the base upwards, Sepp Haslinger predicts the weather for the coming winter.

Mr Sepp Haslinger: “The man who knows what the winter will be like”

Königskerzen, Wetterkerze, Vorhersage, Schnee, Winter

The Verbascum is commonly called “King’s Candle” in German (Königskerze), but another common name here in Bavaria is “Weather Candle” (Wetterkerze) as it has been used for predicting the weather for centuries. Loose infloresences apparently indicate snow-free periods, while particularly long specimens with many flowers can suggest winters with a lot of snow.

Over the past four years Mr Haslinger’s forecasts have been accurate, and local snow clearing services rely on him for deciding on whether to set on extra employees or how much salt and grit to order for spreading on roads. This year they are doubling their orders, as Mr Haslinger has predicted a “winter of the century” with more snow than we have seen in a long time… the first snowfall is “definitely in mid-October”, and “abundant”!

(I’m glad I have got most of my bulbs planted – I must tie up the Miscanthus next in preparation!)

Here he is, reading his Verbascum on the Catholic holiday – the Feast of Assumption – in early August – I’m afraid there is no translation as his dialect is rather hard to understand even for me, but do take a look to get the general idea how he does it!

The 73-year-old weather prophet, who jokingly admits he would have been burnt at the stake as a witch a few centuries ago, says that it will not only be a very snowy winter this year, but also a very long one, with snow sticking around until Easter 2016. There will be periods inbetween with less or no snow, but Advent will be white – good news for the Christmas markets and the hot mulled wine stands – although Sepp warns them to strengthen the rooves of their booths! The winter equinox and Christmas will probably be milder, but in the New Year it will turn cold and snowy once again. All in all it will be “a hard winter”.

(Not really what I wanted to hear, but we will see!)


Have you heard of any unusual ways of predicting weather?


36 thoughts on “Reading the Signs: Verbascum thapsus

  1. Its usually an indicator of a harsh winter folk say if we have a lot of berries on Holly. I pulled out two enormous over 6ft tall verbascum last week, does this mean we are in or snow this year, I enjoyed your post Cathy and am off to stock up on snow shovels!

  2. What a fun post. I thought the number of berries on the holly, or seeds on a plant reflected the summer we have had, rather than the winter to come. Let’s see, I hope he is wrong.
    I speak German, but I could hardly understand a word he said. I’ m glad to hear that even you find it difficult.

    • Well, he is definitely hard to understand even for one used to Bavarian. But what I clearly understood was, that he would bet with everyone for half a dead pig (“A halberte dode Sau”) that his forecast is right. And I tend to believe him, as he seems to have been near to nature all his long life.

  3. I do love these kinds of stories. A friend knows an old Norfolk man who predicts the weather and he’s always spot on. I look out for how many berries are on the hedgerows because I’ve heard that it is an indicator of the winter ahead. The trouble is, the berries get eaten, which makes them a less than reliable source of information. I think I would rather read Verbascum.

    • I didn’t know that the number of berries is a sign. We always have so many here and I haven’t heard any local weather proverbs connected to them so must ask around. Thanks Sarah!

  4. I have not heard of using verbascum for weather forecasting. Pine cones are suppose to open in fine weather and close during wet periods.I hope he is wrong on this occasion.

    • The pine cones really do indicate dry or damp weather as I have collected them in past years for decoration. I suppose there used to be many other signs of changes in weather, but they were no doubt not terribly reliable!

  5. This really is fascinating, Cathy! I think it’s remarkable that he’s been so accurate in his reading that snow clearing services pay attention! I can understand that his prediction for this year is hard to anticipate, but all that snow will at least be good for the soil when it melts, I suppose. I didn’t realize you have had such a dry, hot season! Some of our friends who live out of state have told us of trees near their home (Montana) are showing signs that they have only seen in El Niño years and that they base a wet winter on what they see. The El Niño effect is due to bring us some very badly needed rain this year so we’re counting on it! I hope our friends are right. This was a fun post! I loved the video, even if I don’t speak German. 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I’m not sure whether to believe him or not! After all, scientifically it is not possible to predict a whole winter, although El Nino will surely have an effect on us too. I do hope you get rain this winter anyway, as this summer was only a taster of what your region has had to cope with for several years. Many of our trees suffered this summer, but most bounced back after dropping all their leaves and partly producing new ones. I bet some people would say that is a sure sign of….. something! LOL!

  6. How fascinating, thanks for sharing this! His accent sounds very unusual.
    I suppose for someone to use “Weather Candles” in another location would require them to observe the weather and the verbascum for many years.

    • I imagine he notices many other signs in nature that could indicate the weather to come. Personally I think animal behaviour is probably more reliable for weather forecasting – the swallows all disappeared overnight last week, 24 hours before very heavy rain and wind came down from the north….

  7. Oh I love hearing about using nature with predicting weather….not sure I like the prediction…I have heard here that if squirrels build nests high in the trees, then it will be a cold hard winter….haven’t seen the nests yet.

    • I think our squirrels always build pretty high up, but I haven’t seen their nest this year either. Just north and south of us they have had the first taste of snow this week, so Mr H was right there!

  8. Well, that’s a new one on me Cathy! Mind you, I have read that we are in for a severe winter because of the strength of the El Niño. Better that than be facing the droughts and starvation that many south of the equator are faced with.

  9. Cathy, what a fascinating story! I’m sorry to hear his predictions are for a long, cold winter. Not what you had hoped for I’m sure. I’m impressed by his accuracy (or I suppose his ability to read what the flowers say). Great post!

  10. Pingback: In a Vase on Monday: Taking a Bow | Words and Herbs

  11. Our summer was like yours now I must go check my Kings Candle to see how much trouble I will be in come our snowy season 🙂

    • Well, no sign of the snow yet Eunice, although he did forecast some for early November… I’m sure it varies regionally, if it’s a dependable way of forecasting at all…. I am a little skeptical, but the snow shovels are at the ready just in case! 😉

      • Same here gardens put to bed seed purchased for the wild birds, plastic up on clean windows and new batteries in the smoke alarms as this weekend we turn our clocks back one hour and settle in to a much slower pace in these parts 🙂 cooking indoors in large pots and roaster pans heat turned on and long cold walks along the beach shortly 🙂

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