Plantaginaceae: Plantain Family — Plantain

Cut-leaved Plantain – Plantago coronopus

Blooms:

Apr–July

Plant Height:

5–50 cm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Open and disturbed areas

Notes:

This has distinctive slender, pinnately-lobed, lanceolate leaves in a basal rosette.  The flowers are in spikes at the end of long, curved peduncles, forming a crown shape — hence the species’ scientific name.  Before the bloom matures, the flower spikes are nodding.  Very common, and rather weedy.

California Plantain – Plantago erecta

Blooms:

Apr–Aug

Plant Height:

3–30 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Grassy slopes, flats and open woodland

Notes:

This is a small, inconspicuous plantain with erect, narrow leaves.  Its white flowers have 4 spreading petals, a deep red center, fine silky hairs and less obvious stamens and pistils.  Although unimpressive to the naked eye, the tiny flowers are beautiful through a hand lens.

English Plantain – Plantago lanceolata

Blooms:

Apr–Aug

Plant Height:

20–80 cm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Europe

Invasive?

Yes – limited

Habitat:

Grassland

Notes:

This is a common invasive species, with distinctive basal leaves.  They are erect to spreading, and elliptic to lanceolate.  The inflorescence is a tight, cone-shaped spike, with flowers that mature from the bottom upwards, each with a pointed bract.  Most noticeable are the prominently exserted stamens, with creamy-white anthers.

Common Plantain – Plantago major

Blooms:

Apr–Sept

Plant Height:

5–60 cm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Damp waste places

Notes:

This is another common species, recognized by its broad, widely elliptical, more or less prostrate leaves.  The leaves narrow abruptly to the petiole (unlike the leaves of  the similar Mexican Plantain (Plantago subnuda, see below), which narrow gradually towards the petiole).  The flowers are in spikes, that are less crowded towards the bottom.  There are comparatively few flowering stems.  Another difference from Mexican Plantain is that the leaves are glabrous, while those of Mexican Plantain can be sparsely hairy.

Pacific Seaside Plantain – Plantago maritima

Blooms:

May–Sept

Plant Height:

< 10 cm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Coastal bluffs and wet, saline places

Notes:

This Plantain has distinctive fleshy leaves, linear to narrowly oblanceolate and green to reddish in color.  The flower spikes are short (less than 10 cm) and few in number.

Mexican Plantain – Plantago subnuda

Blooms:

May–Sept

Plant Height:

< 50 cm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Moist banks

Notes:

This is similar to Common Plantain (Plantago major, see above).  It has similar elliptic to oblanceolate leaves, sometimes much longer (up to 40 cm as against 18 cm long) and sometimes sparsely hairy and with a reddish tinge.  Most important, the leaves narrow gradually towards the broad petiole (unlike the leaves of Common Plantain, which narrow abruptly to the petiole).  The unisexual flowers are in spikes, that can be as tall as 50 cm when the peduncle is included.