It’s Probably Mugwort

Mugwort leaves are white underneath (photo by Kate St. John)
Mugwort leaves are white underneath, June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

There’s a tall plant in the Composite family (Asteraceae) that used to confuse me, especially in early summer. Here’s a trick for identifying mugwort.  It’s everywhere right now.

Mugwort or common wormwood (Artemisia vulgaris) is an aromatic perennial native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and Alaska(!).  It may have been brought here for medicinal purposes, but it spreads easily along roadsides and waste places.  I’m surprised it’s not on Pennsylvania’s Invasives list.

In early summer when mugwort is knee high, it looks like chrysanthemums because its leaves are similar — sharply lobed.  The trick for telling them apart is this:  Look under the leaf. The underside of a mugwort leaf is white (above).

Mugwort leaves (photo by Kate St.John)
Mugwort’s lower leaves in August (photo by Kate St.John)


By late August mugwort is three to eight feet tall with insignificant green flowers clustered at the leaf joints and at the tips of the stems.  The leaves near the flowers look different. They’re linear, not lobed.

Mugwort's insignificant flowerscluster on the stem (photo by Kate St. John)
Mugwort’s insignificant flowerscluster on the stem (photo by Kate St. John)

But it isn’t beautiful.

In August a mugwort patch looks tall and messy.

Mugwort looks messy where there's a lot of it in August (photo by Kate St. John)
Mugwort looks messy in August (photo by Kate St. John)


Wondering what it is?  Flip a leaf.  It’s probably mugwort.


(photos by Kate St.John)

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