Common Plantain

Common Plantain
Common Plantain. Plantago major.
Plantaginaceae, the plantain family.

Plant: Thin spikes of green flowers, 6"-12" rise from a basal rosette of broad, parallel-veined leaves.
Flowers: Tiny, whitish-green, about 1/10" across, densely packed on a narrow, cylindrical spike. Flowers are 4-lobed, and have 4-stamens, though it may take a lens to see these details.
Leaves: Basal, broadly ovate to elliptic, 2"-6", parallel-veined, narrowing to a stem-like base.
Fruit: Small capsules replacing the flowers.
Blooming: June-October
Habitat: Lawns, gardens, roadsides, and weedy places.

Comments: This species was introduced from Europe very early in the colonial period, and is widely distributed across North America. It is a common lawn weed. A similar native species, Blackseed Plantain (P. rugelii) can be distinguished by the reddish bases of the leaves. The young leaves are edible, and can be eaten in salads or as a potherb. They are somewhat bitter and astringent, and the vein fibers are very tough, so it is perhaps not among the best of the wild greens. It is possible to strip out the fibers and braid them into short lengths of tough cord, though this would be very laborious due to the relatively short length of the leaves. The plant has a long history as a medicinal plant; perhaps best known as a poultice on wounds, with a reputation for helping to control bleeding. It does have astringent properties, and also seems to be anti-microbial to some degree, and be otherwise biologically active.

Recently, a large number of showy species, including snapdragons, penstamons, and beardtongues, formerly classified in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) have been moved to the plantain family, on the basis of genetic studies. This has greatly expanded what was previously a small family of mostly inconspicuous plants.

Where to find it: In lawn areas of the park.