Common Plantain

Common Plantain (Plantago major)

This weed is also known as Plantain, Broad-leaved Plantain, Greater Plantago, Healing Blade, Hen Plant, Snakeroot and Waybread.

This is a broadleaf weed native of Europe and Asia, now found all throughout the United States.  From the Plantaginaceae family, it's genus is Plantago which consists of about 200 species.

This is a herbaceous plant , which most plantains are.

Herbaceous plants
are those that die at the end of growing season but can come back in spring depending on if they are an annual, biennial or perennial.

Some plantains are dwarf shrubs. A dwarf shrub is a small, shorter, woody shrub that has stems that run close to the ground.

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Photo: Viesturs Kalvans

This perennial weed is unsightly and when walked on
can become smashed down flat.

Leaves are roundish, can appear waxy and cup inward, like a trough.  Each leaf has five to nine deep parallel veins that run from the tip to it's base. Leaves grow about 3-4 inches and in a rosette. Similar to a dwarf shrub, common plantain leaves also are low to the ground.

From early summer through late fall, leafless, thick stalks 6-18 inches tall grow upward from the rosette's center. Flowers are at the top of the stems and are small greenish-white in color. The flowers also act as seed pod's which contain 10-20 seeds. Flowers also bloom from early summer through fall. Once the black seeds are mature the flowering seed pod splits from the seam that runs around the middle.

Plantain is found growing in heavy, compacted soils that are preferably damp and fertile. It can be found in lawns, unmowed roadsides and also in crops where it becomes a contaminant in cereal grain and other crop seeds.

Growing primarily from seed, plantain seeds don't carry as far as other weed seeds when pollinating, unless there is a very high wind. Weeds sprout about mid-spring from a central taproot.

Flowering and fruiting of this weed do not occur before the second year. For this reason it isn't as invasive in cultivated areas or gardens that weeding is kept up. It can sometimes be stubborn to remove. It's easier to remove when weed is young, otherwise you may not get the entire root when eradicating. Fortunately this weed's fibrous root doesn't grow as deep as other rooting systems.

Traditional chemical methods include post emergent weed control or a pre-emergent herbicide to eradicate weed and seeds.  Manual options include digging or pulling to get the tap root out before any seeds set. Other options are to cut plant off at the surface of soil every two weeks. Eventually the root will stop re-sprouting.

Raise lawnmower blades higher on plantain to shade it out in the lawn. Common plantain grows with full sun, rarely does it grow in shaded areas. If found growing in the garden, aerate the area after pulling weed out and add darker, richer soil.

Buckhorn Plantain / Bracted Plantain

When the weed 
plantain is mentioned, more often it is the Common Plantain that is being referred to. Below are the two other plantains 
most often inquired about within this genus:

Buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) Also called Narrow-leafed plantain, Ripple grass and Ribwort.

This perennial weed has leaves that are long, narrow and hairy. Lanceolata is Latin for lance-leaved because the shape of the leaf resembles lance heads. This is also an unsightly weed that can become invasive. It has not been in the U.S. for long but it is found throughout the country. Aerate and dig area where weeds are. Add darker soil and within a few years if Buckhorn doesn't grow back it's probably been eradicated.

Bracted plantain (Plantago aristata).
Bracted plantain is also called Western buckhorn, Bristly buckhorn and Western ripple-grass.

Bracted plantain is an annual that resembles short, thin, hairy grass. This is often confused with the above, buckhorn plantain. Having bracted plantain is a good indicator of acidic soil where this weed enjoys growing. Heights reach anywhere from 6-10 inches high. The best way to eliminate bracted plantain is to raise soil pH, or make soil more alkaline.


  • Many plantians are enjoyed by various butterfly caterpillars.
  • Common plantain's leaves are edible and can be cooked or eaten raw. When the weed is small in early spring, the leaves are juicey with a similar taste of wheat grass. The older the weed becomes the more bitter the flavor. Seeds are also edible having a nutty taste.
  • This weed has been used medicinally for a long time. Even misquito bites are calmed by applying the weed's juice.
  • Plantain seeds are very high in mucilage and fiber. Common plantain is in the same family as Plantago psyllium, the plant whose mucilaginous fiber is the active ingredient in many bulk fiber/laxative products.
  • Various domestic fowels like chicken and geese along with a variety of other birds eat this weed. Other animals include rabbit and deer.
  • This plantian is not related to the plantain family of fruit that looks like a banana.

Related Articles

           Growing Plants from Seed -
                Benefits and suggestions for removing weed seeds.

Back to Weed Identification

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