English Plantain

2016 September 8

So, last time while talking about Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies, I mentioned that their caterpillars have taken a liking to English Plantain, a common invasive weed. How common is it? Well, it makes up a substantial fraction of our lawn, for one thing. Here is some that I photographed on July 2, 2016, right in their peak blooming period. The flower heads are the most noticeable, they shoot up to about 6 inches tall and look like this:


The flower head blooms from the bottom up, kind of like an (extremely slow) string of firecrackers that takes more than a week to finish off. If you mow off the heads before they ripen, they’ll usually grow back a few times, so the blooming period can be pretty protracted.

In a mowed lawn, the leaves make a flat rosette that lays down and blends in with the grass.


The individual leaves are long and not too wide, and have prominent ribs running down their length.


If you break off a leaf, there are fairly strong fibers that run down each rib, and pull loose from the leaf fairly easily. I suppose that you could probably make a very coarse cloth from them if you wanted.


While this plant does have medicinal uses (tea made from it is supposed to be good for suppressing coughs), I expect that it was introduced by accident, because it has the kind of seeds that lend themselves to accidental introduction (small and easily mixed in with grass seeds). Incidentally, the herbaceous plantains in the genus Plantago are completely unrelated to the “cooking plantains” in the genus Musa, which are more like starchy bananas.

3 Responses
  1. September 9, 2016

    English Plantain is generally used as medicine. The fresh leaves that crushed can be applied to wounds, sores, and insect bites. Another thing the English Plantain was considered to be one of the nine sacred herbs by the ancient Saxon people.

  2. September 9, 2016

    Thanks, Chris. So, maybe it was imported on purpose after all. Although, by now, it is certainly spreading very well without further assistance.

  3. September 9, 2016

    If they made it all the way to being ancient Saxons, the stuff must have worked!


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