Plantago lanceolata L.

Family: - Plantaginaceae.



Other names:

Bucks Horn Plantain

Common Plantain

Lamb's tongue

Narrow-Leaf Plantain


Ribwort Plantain


It has hairy, long, slender ribbed leaves that form 1 or more rosettes from which emerge long, slender flowering stems carrying dense, brown, cylindrical seed heads that often have white anthers sticking out of them from October to March or in July.



Two. The long, narrow, cotyledons are 25 to 35 mm long by 1.0 to 1.5 mm wide, stalkless, round tipped and carry hairs at the base only. Base tapered. They have a distinct depression along the midrib. The seedling has a very short hypocotyl and no epicotyl.

First Leaves:

The leaves grow singly, are 20 to 25 mm long, spear shaped with a pointed apex and are sessile or have a very short merging petiole. Long, often downy, hairs are present on the upper surface and a few occur on the lower surface. In young plants the hairs may form a cobwebby mat on the upper leaf surface. The veins are longitudinal and there is a well-defined mid-rib depression on the upper surface.


Forms 1 to several rosettes of semi erect or prostrate leaves from short broad crowns.

Stipules - None.

Petiole - Broad, flat, dilated at the base, 20-40 mm long.

Blade - Long, narrow and narrowly egg shaped, 30-300 mm long by 8-30 mm wide, 3 to 7 longitudinal veins form ribs, upper surface often somewhat glossy, edges are often shallowly toothed especially near the tip. Tip acute or pointed. Base tapering to petiole. Fine, long, silky, unicellular hairs at the base. Hairless, slightly hairy or woolly on the blade but usually hairless or sparsely hairy on the nerves.

It is usually compact in turf but very much more loose and spreading in non-competitive situations.



Flower stem - Erect, leafless, fluted or circular in cross section with shallow ridges, striped, solid with a pithy core, 100-1000 mm long, longer than the leaves. Long, thin, downy hairs. Ascends from rosette to a height greater than the length of the leaves.

Flower head:

Dense, terminal, brown spike, 10-100 mm long by 7-12 mm wide, initially ovoid and becoming cylindrical. On a long, slender, stalk (peduncle or scape) held well above the leaves.


Inconspicuous, green, 1-2 mm in diameter.

Bracts - Longer than the sepals, 2-9 mm long, egg shaped with papery edges, a thick green centre and a tapering tip. Hairless or the centre sparsely hairy.

Ovary - 2 celled. Style up to 10 mm long.

Sepals - 2-4 mm long, membranous. 2 upper sepals free, hairy or hairless on the green keels. 2 lower sepals united to near the top, thick centres, 2 brown or green veins, membranous edges and hairless or some hairs on the upper part of the keels.

Petals - Tube 2-3 mm long with 4, ovoid, spreading, papery lobes, 1.5-2 mm long, as long as sepals with brown midribs. Hairless.

Stamens - 4 conspicuous stamens, 5 mm long and stick out of the flower.

Anthers - Large, 2 mm long, prominent, white with a short, sharp, flexible point and surround the flower head.


Egg shaped capsule, 3-4 mm long, 2 celled with up to 2 seeds. Petals remain attached to the fruit. Breaks on a horizontal ring near the base.


Brown, oblong or ellipsoid, channelled on the inner face. Covered with a thin mucilaginous layer that becomes jelly like on wetting. 2-4 mm long by 1-2 mm wide.



Key Characters:

Stems none, leaves all radical in rosettes.

Leave lanceolate, entire or obscurely toothed near the apex and long, 3-7 prominent longitudinal nerves, silky hairs at the base.

Spikes to 200 mm long, rarely small.

Bracts pointed, longer than the sepals.

Lower 2 sepals united.

Ovary 2 celled with 1 ovule in each cell.



Life cycle:

Annual, biennial or perennial. Germination occurs mainly in the autumn and winter.



Flowering times:

Spring to autumn in western NSW.

October to January in SA.

October to March and July in Perth.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:



Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Origin and History:

Europe. North and central Asia.



All states except NT.

Occurs throughout Tasmania.




More abundant in the higher rainfall areas.


Plant Associations:



Stamens produce a valuable supply of pollen for bees.

Fodder grazed by stock when other feed is limited.


Widespread weed of cultivation, poor lawns, turfs, gardens, roadsides, and disturbed areas.

It occurs to a limited extend in crops and in pasture during the establishment stage.

It is sometimes an important weed in vegetable crops.

Host for some plant diseases.

Host for light brown apple moth 654.


Important cause of hay fever.




Management and Control:


Eradication strategies:

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Related plants:

Buck's-Horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus) has no depression along the midrib of the cotyledon. The early leaves are, quite different in appearance being more or less parallel sided and then lobed or toothed without a central depression or prominent veins, and with a rounded or blunt rather than a pointed tip.

Greater Plantain (Plantago major)

Sago Weed (Plantago cunninghamii, Plantago drummondii)

Plantago varia.

Plants of similar appearance:

The seedling is very similar to, and can easily be mistaken for that of Wireweed (Polygonum aviculare). Plantain can be distinguished by the presence of a median depression on both the cotyledon and leaf, while the membranous sheath at the leaf base in Wireweed is absent in Plantain. The cotyledon and leaf in Wireweed is hairless, while Plantain has hairs, particularly round the base of the leaf. After the second or third leaf the two species have totally different growth habits.

The cotyledon of Plantain is similar to that of Corn Spurry (Spergula arvensis) and Purple Calandrinia (Calandrinia menziesii), but neither of these has a median depression. The cotyledon of Calandrinia is oval and that of Spurry is circular in cross section. The leaves are quite distinct.


Auld, B.A. and Medd R.W. (1992). Weeds. An illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P201. Photo.

Black, J.M. (1965). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P792. Diagram.

Burbidge, N.T. and Gray, M. (1970). Flora of the Australian Capital Territory. (Australian National University Press, Canberra). P333, 335. Diagram.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P618. Photo.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P196. Photo.

Hyde-Wyatt, B.H. and Morris, D.I. (1975). Tasmanian weed handbook. (Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, Hobart, Tasmania). P86-87. Diagrams.

Lamp, C. and Collet, F. (1990). A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). p219.

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #991.4.

Marchant, N.G., Wheeler, J.R., Rye, B.L., Bennett, E.M., Lander, N.S. and Macfarlane, T.D. (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P569.

Wilding, J.L. et al. (1987). Crop weeds. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P132-133. Diagrams. Photos.


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