common plantain (Plantago major)
white man's foot
Plantago asiatica auct. non L.
Plantago halophila Bickn.
Plantago major intermedia (Dc.) Arcang.
Plantago major var. asiatica auct. non (L.) Dcne.
Plantago major var. intermedia (Dc.) Pilger
Plantago major var. pachyphylla Pilger
Plantago major var. pilgeri Domin
Plantago major var. scopulorum Fries and Broberg
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of common plan-
tain is Plantago major L. This is a common lawn weed that is able to re-
sist mowing because of its low basal leaves. Even stunted specimens of
this plant can produce small flowering spikes. Common plantain is very
similar in appearance to the native Plantago rugelii (black-seeded plan-
tain), which is another common lawn weed. The easiest way to distinguish
these two species involves an examination of the seed capsules on a ma-
ture floral spike (one that has become purple or brown). Common plantain
has ovoid seed capsules that split open around the middle at maturity. In
contrast, black-seeded plantain has oblongoid seed capsules that split open
toward the bottom at maturity. By applying pressure with the fingers, it is
possible to split open the seed capsules a little prematurely. These two
species also differ in the appearance of their seeds and the shape of their
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This introduced perennial plant is consists of a low rosette of basal
leaves about 5-12" across, from which one or more flowering stalks devel-
Leaves: The blades of the basal leaves are 2-5" long and 1½–3" across;
they are oval in shape with about 5 parallel veins and smooth margins.
he upper surface of each blade is medium green and glabrous to sparsely canescent, while the lower surface of each blade is light green and some-
times finely pubescent along the veins. The petioles are a little shorter
than their blades, light green, and usually glabrous. The upper surface of
each petiole has a concave groove along its length.
Flowers: The flowering stalks are 4-20" long, unbranched, and more or
less erect. The lower one-third of each stalk is green, terete, glabrous to
finely pubescent, and naked; a narrowly cylindrical spike of greenish
flowers occurs along the upper two-thirds of each stalk. These small
flowers are densely distributed along the spike. Each flower is only 1/8"
across, consisting of 4 green sepals, a pistil with a single white style, 4
stamens with pale purple anthers, and a papery corolla with 4 spreading
lobes. Each sepal has a green keel and membranous margins; it is ovate
to oval in shape (including the margins). The tiny lobes of the corolla are lanceolate in shape and smaller than the sepals. At the base of each flower,
there is a green bract that is ovate to oval in shape and about the same
length as the sepals. A single floral spike remains in bloom for about 2
weeks, but the same plant can produce a succession of spikes that bloom
at different times of the year. Furthermore, some plants produce their
spikes earlier or later than others. The flowers are wind- pollinated.
Fruit/Seeds: The flowers are replaced by ovoid seed capsules that are in-
dividually about 3 mm. long at maturity; they are initially green, but later
become purple or brown. Each seed capsule is circumscissile and splits
open around the middle to release the seeds. Each capsule contains about
6-15 seeds. The seeds are 1.0–1.5 mm. long, light to dark brown, and
somewhat flattened; the seed surface is finely reticulated (requires 10x
hand lens to see).
Roots: The root system consists of a short crown with fibrous roots.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Common plantain reproduces by seeds
and from root fragments. A single plant can produce up to 14,000 seeds.
Seeds are viable in soil for up to 60 years. Seeds are sticky when wet.
They may adhere to soil particles, feathers, fur, skin, or vehicles.
HABITAT TYPES: It is likely that common plantain is more widely
distributed than official records indicate; it was introduced from Europe
and is widely distributed across the continent of North America. Habitats
include lawns, mowed roadsides, compacted soil along paths, vacant lots,
and waste areas. Areas with a history of human-related continuous disturb-
ance are preferred, including vineyards, orchards, gardens, urban sites,
landscaped areas, footpaths, roadsides. This plant is more common in
urban areas than elsewhere and is very common in any situation where
turfgrass is present. Once a few plants become established in turfgrass or
ornamental areas, seed and plant parts can contaminate equipment, partic-
ularly lawn mowers, and spread to new areas. Cleaning equipment prior to
moving to a new area can reduce the spread of plantains and other weeds.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Common plantain prefers full or partial
sun, moist to mesic conditions, and a wide range of soils such as loam,
clay, and sand, with a pH ranging from 4.8 to 7.3. It tolerates considerable
compaction of the soil; it is quite resistant to trampling. With either com-
pact soils or trampling the size of individual plants will be somewhat
smaller. Individual seeds can remain viable for up to 60 years and
require light to germinate. It occupies withstands temperatures to
-38°F, and requires 85 frost-free days for successful growth and
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period can occur from
early summer to early fall (May to October).
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common plantain is distributed through-
out the continental United States and Canada; it is found in every state and
province (with the possible exception of portion of the northern territories).
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Because the flowers are wind-pollinated,
they attract few insect visitors. However, Syrphid flies sometimes feed on
the pollen. The caterpillars of the butterfly Junonia coenia (buckeye) and
several species of moth feed on Plantago spp. (primarily the foliage).
Other insect feeders include Dysaphis plantaginea (rosy apple aphid),
Dibolia borealis (flea beetle sp.), Gymnaetron pascuorum (seedpod
weevil sp.), and Melanoplus bivittatus (two-striped grasshopper).
cardinals, grasshopper sparrows, and probably other birds feed on either
the seeds or seed capsules to a minor extent; the ruffed grouse occasion-
ally eats the leaves. The non-toxic leaves and flowering stalks of common plantain are readily consumed by groundhogs, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep,
and other mammalian herbivores.
Plantain is edible - the young, tender leaves for use in a salad, or steamed
and used as a spinach substitute. The leaves get tough quickly; the young-
est leaves should only be harvested. The immature flower stalks may be
eaten raw or cooked. Some harvesing of seeds is done; they are said to
have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety of foods
or ground into flour. The leaves, seeds and roots can all be made into an
Plantain has been used medicinally by Europeans for centuries. It was
used to treat ulcers and sores. Under the name 'way-bread' it was one of
the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons. Herbals dating from the
1500's and 1600's are full of recipes and uses for plantain. It was consider-
ed to be almost a panacea - a cure-all, and a quick search shows that is has
historically been recommended as a treatment for just about everything,
up to and including dog bites, ulcers, ringworm, jaundice, epilepsy, liver
obstructions, and hemorrhoids! Plantain was so commonly known it is
even found referenced in works by both Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides
ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K. Among the more notable chemicals
found in plantain are allantion, apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic
acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, and tannin. Together these constituents are
thought to give plantain mild anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-
hemorrhagic, and expectorant actions. Acubin has been reported as a
powerful anti-toxin. Allantoin has been proved to promote wound healing,
speed up cell regeneration, and have skin-softening effects. The leaves do
contain tannins and certain astringent substances that soothe cuts and net-
tle stings, and they are still used in parts of Shetland for burns and wounds.
Modern medical research is proving to uphold many of the historical uses
of plantain - especially as a wound healer, and as a treament for lung con-
ditions such as bronchitis or asthma. Medicinally, plantain is astringent,
demulcent, emollient, cooling, vulnerary, expectorant, antimicrobial, anti-
viral, antitoxin, and diuretic. Plantain is approved by the German Com-
mission E (the German equalavent of the United States Food and Drug
Administration that studies and regulates herbs and herbal uses) for
internal use to ease coughs and mucous membrane irritation associated
with upper respiratory tract infections as well as topical use for skin inflam-
mations. Clinical trials have suggested that plantain may be effective in the
treatment of chronic bronchitis.
Crooked Run Valley