Blackseed Plantain (Plantago rugelii)
Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae)
common plantain, pale plantain, purple-stemmed plantain, Rugel's plantain, silk plant.
Origin and Distribution:
A native of the eastern U.S. that has expanded its range north into southern Canada and as far west as North Dakota and Texas. It is found throughout Ohio.
Blackseed plantain is a perennial that frequently inhabits turfgrass, where it survives repeated mowing by growing as ground-hugging rosettes. Blackseed plantain has large, oval, strongly ribbed leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers appearing in clusters on solitary, erect flower stems. Blackseed plantain leaves are thin, light green, and attached to leaf stalks (petioles) that have purplish bases. Seeds are the primary means by which this species reproduce, although it is capable of reproducing vegetatively from root fragments.
Roots are mostly fibrous with a short taproot.
Seedlings and Shoots:
First 2 leaves that emerge (cotyledons) are spatula-shaped and have 3 parallel veins. Subsequent leaves are oval, have 3 to 5 prominent veins, and develop into a basal rosette.
The erect flowering stems (scapes) are 6 to 12 inches tall, leafless, unbranched, and terminate in a cluster of small, inconspicuous flowers.
Mature leaves are thin, broad, oval, up to 12 inches long, and have 3 or more prominent veins running parallel to the leaf edge. Leaves are distinctive because of their light green color and tapered tip. The leaf edge may be wavy-toothed. Leaves attach to the compressed stem of the rosette by way of a narrow leaf stalk (petiole) with a dark red or purple base that is about the same length as the leaf blade.
Inconspicuous greenish or white flowers are clustered in long, narrow spikes at the end of the flowering stem.
Fruits and Seeds:
Fruits are cylindrical capsules about 1/4 inch long and split across the lower half into 2 unequal cells containing 4 to 10 dull black seeds. Seeds are larger and smoother than those of broadleaf plantain and have a scar near the center on one side.
Buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is a similarly-appearing relative that has narrower, lance-shaped leaves tapering to a short petiole and a much more compressed flower cluster. Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is another similar species that has a petiole having a green base, rather than the purplish base that blackseed plantian has. Hoary plantain (Plantago media) is also similar in appearance except its leaves are elliptic, thick, and covered with wooly hairs.
Both plantain species flower from June through September. Seeds are dispersed by wind, birds, or human activity. When wet, seeds develop a sticky mucilaginous cover that causes them to stick on soil particles and adhere to animals. BROADLEAF PLANTAIN can produce up to 14,000 seeds per plant per year and seeds may remain viable for up to 60 years. Seeds germinate in late spring, through midsummer, and again in early fall.
Facts and Folklore:
'Plantain' is from the French word meaning 'sole of the foot' referring to the plant's flat leaves.
Plantains were once highly esteemed medicinal herbs. Leaves were used to treat bites, stings, cuts, sore feet, and ailments of the eyes, tongue, and mouth.
Young plantain leaves are used in China and Japan as a vegetable similar to spinach.
Birds are fond of plantain seeds, which contain a higher percentage of oil than many seeds and are grown commercially and included in some bird seed mixtures.