English Plantain

Plantago lanceolata


Photo of English plantain flowers
John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org

Plantaginaceae (plantains)


A perennial herb with a basal rosette of leaves and 1or more leafless flowering stalks. Flowers in spikes, terminal on scapes (leafless stems), with tiny, white flowers with a 4-parted corolla. The flowering head develops a brownish appearance due to many short bracts subtending (beneath) each flower. Blooms April–October. Leaves in a basal rosette, lanceolate, with parallel veins and long, tapering petioles (leaf stalks).

This is one of the few "dicot" plants that has leaves with parallel veins. Usually, that characteristic belongs only to the monocots, a large class of plants that includes grasses, lilies, orchids, iris and so on. Dicots, on the other hand, usually have leaf veins that spread out, like those of maple or bay leaves.

This plantain and the rest of the plantain family are unrelated to the tropical banana-like plantains. Those fruits are in their own family and are more closely related to ginger and cardamom. English plantain has more in common with mints and lilacs.


Height: about 5-15 inches.


Photo of English plantain, full view, showing growth habit
English Plantain (Growth Habit)
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in fields, waste places, rights-of-way, lawns, gardens and other disturbed places, often in dry soils. An Old World plant, this species followed European colonists as they explored and colonized the globe. Like dandelions and similar plants, it has several adaptions that allow its many seeds to spread easily and widely. Fortunately, it grows best in disturbed ground and does not commonly invade established natural landscapes.

image of English Plantain distribution map
Distribution in Missouri


Human connections

This plant has lived alongside humans for centuries, so naturally people explored its potential as medicine. Even today, some herbalists make a tea out of the leaves and use it to treat coughs and other respiratory ailments.

Ecosystem connections

The flowers are wind-pollinated, so insects rarely visit the flowers. The foliage is consumed by larval stages of some butterflies and moths as well as by other insects. The wide-spreading leaves at the base serve the plantain well by shading out any plants that might try to grow nearby.