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Plantaginaceae
Plants of the Plantain Family

      Our members of this family are low, green plants with inconspicuous flowers. The leaves initially appear to have parallel venation like monocotyledons, but there are smaller, netted veins in between the main veins. The flowers are greenish, forming on a slender stalk. If you look closely you will see that the flowers are regular and bisexual with 4 united sepals and petals and 4 stamens. The ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 united carpels (bicarpellate) forming a single chamber. It matures as a circumscissile (lidded) capsule with 1 or more seeds per cell, or sometimes as a nut.

      Worldwide, there are only 3 genera and 270 species, mostly of Plantago. 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 (Klein).

Key Words: Dicots with parallel veins.
Slender flower stalks with small, greenish flowers
and parts in fours. Lidded capsules.

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


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


Botany in a Day

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. Close-up of the flowers.

There are more
Plantain Family pictures
at PlantSystematics.org.



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