Family: Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae)
Other Names: Plantago asiatica, common plantain, cuckoo's bread, doorweed, dooryard plantain, Englishman's-foot, great plantain, plantain, ripple grass, roundleaf plantain, slan-lus, snake-plant, snakeweed, waybread, waybroad, weybroed, whiteman's-foot.
Origin and Distribution: Originated in Eurasia and is currently distributed throughout the world. A botanist found broadleaf plantain so widespread in New England in 1798 that he classified it as a native. Broadleaf plantain is naturalized throughout Ohio, but its occurrence is less frequent in western parts of the state. It is rarely found in wet or shaded sites. Both species are common in areas where the soil is compacted or disturbed including turfgrass, landscapes, orchards, nurseries, waste places, and cultivated fields. The plants grow on a wide range of soils from sand to clay loams, but they prefer rich, moist soils. Plantains tolerate constant disturbance such as mowing and trampling.
Plant Description: Broadleaf plantain is a perennial that frequently inhabits turfgrass, where it survives repeated mowing by growing as a ground-hugging rosette. The species has large, oval, strongly ribbed leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers appearing in clusters on solitary, erect flower stems. Broadleaf plantain leaves are thick, leathery, and taper to a petiole having a green base. Seeds are the primary means by which this species reproduce, although it is capable of reproducing vegetatively from root fragments.
- Root system - Roots are mostly fibrous with a short taproot.
- Seedlings & Shoots - First 2 leaves to emerge (cotyledons) are spatula-shaped, covered with a powdery coating, and have 3 parallel veins. Subsequent leaves are oval, have 3 to 5 prominent veins, and develop into a basal rosette.
- Stems - The erect flowering stems (scapes) are less than 12 inches tall, leafless, unbranched, and terminate in a cluster of small, inconspicuous flowers.
- Leaves - Mature leaves are thick, leathery, broad, oval, up to 12 inches long, and have 3 or more prominent veins running parallel to the leaf edge. Leaf edges are either smooth or irregularly toothed. Leaves attach to the compressed stem of the rosette by way of a thick green petiole that is about as long as the leaf blade.
- Flowers - Inconspicuous greenish or white flowers are clustered in long, narrow spikes at the end of a flowering stem.
- Fruits & Seeds - Fruits are egg-shaped capsules less than 1/4 inch long and split across the middle into 2 equal segments containing 6 to 20 brown, glossy, ridged seeds.
Similar Species: 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. Blackseed plantain (Plantago rugelli) is another similar species that has a petiole having a puplish base, rather than the green base that broadleaf plantian has. Hoary plantain (Plantago media) is also similar in appearance except its leaves are elliptic, thick, and covered with wooly hairs.
Biology: 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.
Toxicity: None known.
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.