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Plantaginaceae
Plants of the Plantain Family

      The traditional Plantain family was small, consisting of only 3 genera and 270 species, almost all of them plantain (Plantago). However, based on genetic evidence, most members of the Figwort or Snapdragon family have been moved into the Plantain family, making this the new "Figwort family." In addition, the former Mare's Tail family (Hippuridaceae) and Water Starwort family (Callitrichaceae) were also merged into the Plantain family. The resulting hodgepodge of plants are genetically related, but don't share any over-arching patterns for identification. Additional details for identification are included for each tribe featured below.

Tribes of the Plantain Family
Plantain | Water Starwort | Snapdragon | Turtlehead | Foxglove | Speedwell

Please e-mail Thomas J. Elpel to report mistakes or to inquire about purchasing high resolution photos of these plants.


Plantain Tribe: Plantagineae
      These are low, green plants with inconspicuous flowers. The leaves appear to have parallel venation like monocts, but there are smaller, netted veins between the main veins. The flowers are greenish and small, forming on a slender stalk. They are regular and bisexual with 4 united sepals, 4 united petals, and 4 stamens. The ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 united carpels forming a single chamber. It matures as a circumscissile (lidded) capsule with 1 or more seeds per cell, or sometimes as a nut.

      Plantago psyllium is raised commercially for its seeds. These are marketed as a bulk laxative in products like Metamucil. The seed husks swell up in water, resulting in softer, larger stools that are easier to pass. It is important to drink plenty of water with psyllium seeds, or they will suck the water out of the body and contribute to further obstructing your bowels. Plantain seeds have also been used to absorb toxins present in the intestinal tract.

Plantago major. Broadleaf Plantain.

Plantago major. Broadleaf Plantain. Broadleaf plantain was introduced from Europe. This one was photographed along the upper Missouri River in Montana.

Plantago lanceolata. Narrowleaf Plantain drawing.

Plantago lanceolata. Narrowleaf Plantain drawing.

Plantago lanceolata. Narrowleaf Plantain.

Plantago lanceolata. Narrowleaf Plantain. Narrowleaf plantain was introduced from Eurasia. This one was photographed along the northern California coast. The same species is found nationwide, but it is usually much smaller.

Plantago lanceolata. Narrowleaf Plantain.

Plantago lanceolata. Narrowleaf Plantain. Close-up of the flowers.


Water Starwort Tribe: Callitricheae
      These are aquatic plants with usually whorled or opposite leaves and usually bisexual flowers. The sepals are greatly reduced or absent, and there are no petals. There is only one 1 stamen. The ovary consists of 1 carpel in Callitriche) or 2 carpels with false partitions, making a four-chambered ovary in Hippuris.

Hippuris vulgaris. Mare's Tail.

Hippuris vulgaris. Mare's Tail. Hippuris has a greenish flower without petals. The sepals are fused together and not individually distinguishable.

Hippuris vulgaris. Mare's Tail.

Hippuris vulgaris. Mare's Tail. Botanists disagree on how many species of Hippuris there are. There could be three separate species, or they might all be varieties of the single species Hippuris vulgaris.


Snapdragon Tribe: Antirrhineae
      These are often highly ornate figwort-like flowers with a distinctive "mouth." Squeeze and release the sides of the flower to make the mouth open and close.

Linaria vulgaris. Butter-and-Eggs Toadflax.

Linaria vulgaris. Butter-and-Eggs Toadflax. Hell's Canyon. Near Silver Star, Montana. Butter-and-eggs toadflax has escaped cultivation to become a semi-invasive weed.

Linaria vulgaris. Butter-and-Eggs Toadflax.

Linaria vulgaris. Butter-and-Eggs Toadflax.

Linaria dalmatica. Dalmation Toadflax.

Linaria dalmatica. Dalmation Toadflax. Red Rocks Park. Colorado.

Linaria dalmatica. Dalmation Toadflax.

Linaria dalmatica. Dalmation Toadflax. Missoula, Montana. Dalmation toadflax has escaped cultivation to become an invasive weed.


Turtlehead Tribe: Cheloneae
      These are classic figwort-like flowers, elongated, usually with well defined petal lobes, 2 up and 3 down.

Collinsia parviflora. Blue-Eyed Mary.

Collinsia parviflora. Blue-Eyed Mary.

Collinsia parviflora. Blue-Eyed Mary.

Collinsia parviflora. Blue-Eyed Mary.

Penstemon eriantherus. Fuzzy-Tongue Penstemon.

Penstemon eriantherus. Fuzzy-Tongue Penstemon.

Penstemon eriantherus. Fuzzy-Tongue Penstemon.

Penstemon eriantherus. Fuzzy-Tongue Penstemon.

Penstemon montanus. Alpine Penstemon.

Penstemon montanus. Alpine Penstemon. Tobacco Root Mountains. Pony, Montana.

Penstemon nitidus. Wax-Leaved Penstemon.

Penstemon nitidus. Wax-Leaved Penstemon. Ruby Range. Near Alder, Montana.

 Penstemon procerus. Slender Blue Penstemon.

Penstemon procerus. Slender Blue Penstemon.

Penstemon procerus. Slender Blue Penstemon.

Penstemon procerus. Slender Blue Penstemon.

Penstemon utahensis. Utah Penstemon.

Penstemon utahensis. Utah Penstemon.

Penstemon utahensis. Utah Penstemon.

Penstemon utahensis. Utah Penstemon. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Utah.


Foxglove Tribe: Digitalideae
      These obvious figwort-like flowers, but often with less-pronounced petal lobes.

Digitalis purpurea. Foxglove.

Digitalis purpurea. Foxglove. The flowers are usually purple, but some individuals are white. This one was photographed in New Zealand.

Digitalis purpurea. Foxglove.

Digitalis purpurea. Foxglove. Foxglove is an imported plant that has escaped cultivation in many places across North America. This one was photographed along the northern California coast.


Speedwell Tribe: Veroniceae
      Plants of the Speedwell tribe typically have irregular or nearly regular flowers with 4 sepals, 4 petals, and only 2 stamens.

Besseya wyomingensis. Kittentail.

Besseya wyomingensis. Kittentail. An early spring flower in the Rockies.

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany in a Day
Veronica americana. American speedwell.

Veronica americana. American speedwell.

Veronica americana. American speedwell.

Veronica americana. American speedwell.

Veronica biloba. Two-lobe speedwell.

Veronica biloba. Two-lobe speedwell.

Veronica biloba. Two-lobe speedwell.

Veronica biloba. Two-lobe speedwell.

There are more
Plantain Family pictures
at PlantSystematics.org.

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Check out Botany in a Day

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Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
Participating
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
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Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany
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