English plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Plantago altissima auct. non L.
Plantago lanceolata var. sphaerostachya Mert. & Koch
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of English
plantain is Plantago lanceolata L. Compared to many other plantains,
English plantain has leaves that are more narrow and flowering spikes
that are shorter. For example, its leaves are more narrow than the broad-
leaved plantains, Plantago rugelii and Plantago major, and its flowering
spikes are shorter than than other narrow-leaved plantains, such as Plant-
ago virginica and Plantago aristata. The adventive species Plantago
media (hoary plantain) is quite similar in appearance to English plantain,
ut its flowering spikes are more narrowly cylindrical and its leaves a little
wider than those of the latter. However, hoary plantain has not been re-
ported as occurring in Facquier County.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This adventive perennial plant consists of a rosette of basal leaves
and one or more flowering stalks.
Leaves: The basal leaves are up to 12" long and 1" across, but more
commonly about half this size. They are broadly linear and smooth along
the margins, being broadest toward the middle and tapering toward their
tips and the base of the plant. There are 3-5 parallel veins along the length
of each leaf. The leaves are glabrous to sparsely hairy; there are usually a
few hairs along the central vein on the underside of each leaf. The narrow
flowering stalks are devoid of leaves and about 6-18" tall. They are often
slightly furrowed or angular, and there are scattered hairs on the stalks
toward the base of the plant.
Flowers: Each stalk terminates in an oblongoid spike of flowers about
½-2" long. The small flowers are densely crowded together in whorls
all along this spike. During the bud stage, this spike is green and bluntly
conical at its apex, but it becomes light brown and cylindrical as the
flowers bloom from the bottom to the top. Each flower has 4 sepals, a
short corolla with 4 spreading lobes, and some papery bracts underneath.
The strongly exerted stamens are the most conspicuous feature of the
flowers, which have large white anthers on slender filaments. The flowers
are wind- pollinated and they have no floral scent.
Fruit/Seeds: Each flower is replaced by a small seed capsule that is ovoid
or oblongoid; it splits cleanly and evenly in the lower half to release 2 small seeds. Each seed is oblongoid, dark brown or black, and strongly indented
on one side.
Roots: The root system consists of a shallow crown of coarse fibrous roots.
This plant spreads primarily by reseeding itself.
REGENERATION PROCESS: English plantain propogates itself
HABITAT TYPES: English plantain is native to Eurasia. It occurs in a
great variety of habitats, including meadows, pastures, upland grasslands,
roadsides and river banks, sand dunes, cliffs, waste ground, on cultivated
land, lawns and on walls, lawns, cracks in pavement, vacant lots, and
fallow fields. It prefers disturbed areas and has not invaded natural areas
to any significant extent.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Typical growing conditions are full sun-
light and a mesic to dry soil that is somewhat heavy and contains clay.
This plant also occurs partial sunlight (in which case the foliage becomes
somewhat taller and larger) and other kinds of soil. It withstands regular mowing and some trampling.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs inter-
mittently from late spring to early fall and can last several months for a
population of plants in a given locale.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Like other adventive members of the
Plantago genus, English plantain is ubiquitous, found in all states of
the United Staets and provinces of Canada (with the exception of
Labadour and the northern territories).
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Because the flowers are wind-pollinated,
they attract few insects. Sometimes bees collect pollen from the anthers,
but such visits are uncommon. The caterpillars of several moths feed on
the foliage of Plantago spp. (Plantains). Also, the caterpillars of the butter-
fly Junonia coenia (buckeye) feed on the foliage of Plantains. The seeds
are eaten by the grasshopper sparrow and possibly other granivorous
songbirds. The cottontail rabbit, white-tailed deer, and cattle occasion-
ally eat the foliage, even though it is rather bitter and stringy. Because
the seeds become sticky when wet, they can cling to shoes and the bottoms
of feet. Thus, humans and various animals help to spread the seeds into
Historically, English plantain has been put to many uses. The leaves
have been used to stanch dress wounds, and to treat a range of illnesses
such as diarrhoea, sinusitis, asthma, and bronchitis. The seeds have been
used as a laxative and to treat parasitic worms. The seeds have also been
used to stiffen cloth; they are surrounded by a coat of mucus that is
removed by soaking the seeds in hot water, the resulting liquid stiffens
The pollen of this species is one of the culprits responsible for hay-fever
in many people.
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