Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)


Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae)

Other Names:

black-jacks, black plantain, buck plantain, cocks, costa canina, English plantain, hen plant, jackstraw, kemps, lamb's tongue, lance-leaved plantain, long plantain, narrow-leaved plantain, quinquenervia, rat-tail, rib-grass, ribble grass, ribwort, snake plantain, wendles.

Origin and Distribution:

Since originating in Eurasia, buckhorn plantain has spread all over the world with the exception of a few areas in the sub-arctic. It is believed that the species entered North America as a contaminant of crop seeds. Buckhorn plantain is naturalized throughout Ohio. It is a common weed in turfgrass, landscapes, dry pastures, cultivated fields, open woods, shores, riverbanks, roadsides, and waste places. The species prefers soils that are dry and hard-packed. It is highly resistant to drought.

Plant Description:

Buckhorn plantain is a low growing, rosette-forming perennial. Distinctive characteristics include long, narrow leaves that have prominent parallel veins and inconspicuous flowers in dense clusters located at the end of erect, leafless flowering stems. Surrounding each flower cluster is what appears to be a ring or halo consisting of pollen-bearing anthers protruding from the centers of the flowers. The species reproduces by seeds.

  • Root System:

    Roots are mainly fibrous but a short, undeveloped taproot may also form.

  • Seedlings and Shoots:

    First 2 leaves to emerge (cotyledons) are grass-like, smooth, narrow, and have a depression on the upper surface. The 2 leaves that follow have hairy edges. Subsequent leaves are sparsely hairy. All leaves are basal forming a rosette.

  • Stems:

    The erect flowering stems (scapes) are less than 12 inches tall, leafless, unbranched, and terminate in a cluster of small, inconspicuous flowers. Several stems may emerge from a single root system.

  • Leaves:

    Mature leaves are thin, pale green, lance-shaped, 2 to 10 inches long, and less than 1 inch wide. Leaves have 3 to 5 prominent veins running parallel to the leaf edge. Leaves gradually narrow at the base into a short leaf stalk (petiole). The leaf edge may be smooth or slightly toothed.

  • Flowers:

    Flowers are comprised of inconspicuous, papery, brownish or yellow petals and are borne in short, dense, oval clusters located at the end of an upright flowering stem. The long, pollen-bearing flower structures (stamens) that protrude from the center of each flower form a ring or halo around the cluster.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Fruit is an elongated, brown, 2-seeded capsule that opens by splitting across the middle. Seeds are 1/16 to 1/8 inch long, brown, shiny, and boat-shaped with a scar in the center of the concave side.

Similar Species:

Blackseed plantain (Plantago rugelii) and broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) are related species that appear similar except they have oval-shaped leaves and their flower clusters are not as compressed. Hoary plantain (Plantago media) also looks similar to buckhorn plantain except its leaves are elliptic and covered with wooly hairs.


Flowering occurs in June through September. When wet, seeds develop a sticky mucilaginous cover that causes them to adhere to soil particles and animals. It was reported that, when grown without competition, an individual plant produced over 30 flower spikes and 10,000 seeds in a single season. Plants may not produce seeds every year. Most seeds germinate or die within a year; however, over half of the seeds buried 3 feet deep in soil remained viable after 3 years and some germinated after 16 years of burial. Because seeds readily germinate in darkness, buckhorn plantain can establish in shade under dense vegetation. Emergence of seedlings tends to be concentrated in compressed or depressed microsites, such as footprints made by animals. Often, plants form new shoots at the base producing a clump of rosettes sharing the same root system. The plant tolerates close mowing but does not survive in areas where it is routinely trampled. It can be controlled by application of selective herbicides.


None known. However, the large amounts of airborne pollen likely affect those suffering from hay fever.

Facts and Folklore:

  • The many medicinal uses for buckhorn plantain include applying crushed leaves to the skin to treat insect bites and using seeds to treat constipation.

  • 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. Rabbits and sheep are fond of eating buckhorn plantain and have been observed using their lower teeth to loosen the crowns of plants from the ground.