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Plantago major L.

Common plantain

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderLamialesAromatic herbs and shrubs, including lavender, lilac, olive, jasmine, ash, teak, snapdragon, sesame, psyllium, garden sage, mint, basil, and rosemary
GenusPlantagoFrom Latin plantago, “footprint,” since plantains popped up where European settlers walked
Speciesmajor“Major” or most important

About plant names...

This native of much of Europe and Asia has since spread worldwide, where it is a very common weed. Native americans, observing it for the first time after Europeans came to the Americas, called it "white man's footprint" or "Englishman's foot."

Identification: Plants have a rosette of low-lying oval leaves, each 1¾-8″ (5-20 cm) long and 1½-3½″ (4-9 cm) wide. It produces stalks 6-18″ (15-45 cm) tall, with inconspicuous greenish white flowers along the entire length. The tall stalks are the most noticeable feature of the plant. The flowers become small green seedpods about ⅛″ (3.2 mm) long, containing 10-20 tiny seeds. Plantain grows in virtually any soil, inhabiting spaces no sensible plant would dare approach, such as heavily trodden sand parking lots.

Edibility: The young leaves are edible. Remove the fibrous strands before using them on salads. Blanching (brief immersion in boiling water) softens them a bit.

Online References:


Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants



Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness

The Oregon Flora Image Project

The Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide

SEINet—the Southwest Environmental Information Network


Plantago major (common plantain)

7/28/2009 · Near Nashua River Boat Ramp, Groton, Mass­a­chu­setts

Plantago major (common plantain)

8/24/2023 · Morse Mountain, Phippsburg, Maine

Plantago major (common plantain)

6/22/2010 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Ayer, Mass­a­chu­setts · ≈ 3½ × 5″ (9.2 × 13 cm)

Plantago major (common plantain)

8/1/2009 · Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay, Maine · ≈ 1½ × 2′ (47 × 70 cm)

Plantago asiatica auct. non L.

Plantago halophila E.P. Bicknell

Plantago intermedia Gilib.

Plantago major L. var. asiatica auct. non (L.) Decne.

Plantago major L. var. intermedia (DC.) Pilg.

Plantago major L. ssp. intermedia (DC.) Arcang.

Plantago major L. var. pachyphylla Pilg.

Plantago major L. var. pilgeri Domin

Plantago major L. var. scopulorum Fr. & Broberg


Plantago major description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 5 Sep 2023.

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Plantago major (common plantain)

6/1/2010 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, Mass­a­chu­setts

Plantago major (common plantain)

7/29/2010 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Nashoba Hospital, Ayer, Mass­a­chu­setts · ≈ 2 × 1′ (62 × 41 cm)

Plantago major (common plantain)

Located beside saltwater, this may be the intermedia subspecies. · 9/18/2016 · Deer Isle, at Water’s Edge

Plantago major (common plantain)

Located beside saltwater, this may be the intermedia subspecies. · 9/18/2016 · Deer Isle, at Water’s Edge

Plantago major (common plantain)

9/10/2014 · Acton Arboretum, Acton, Mass­a­chu­setts · ≈ 6 × 8″ (14 × 20 cm)

Plantago major (common plantain)

8/22/2023 · Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Orr’s Island, Maine · ≈ 4 × 6″ (11 × 16 cm)


About this map...