This section is from the book "Wayside And Woodland Blossoms", by Edward Step. Also available from Amazon: Wayside And Woodland Blossoms: A Guide To British Wild-Flowers.
Ribwort Plantain. Greater Plantain.
Plantago lanceolata. Plantago major.
These are among the despised of our wild-flowers, weeds among weeds. They are considered of interest only to the keeper of cage-birds, by whose pets the ripe fruit-stalks are much appreciated. But if we knew the plants better we should appreciate them more. There must be something worthy of respect in a plant that has contrived to get itself so taken throughout the world that it is known wherever Europeans have been, and is called the White-man's Foot. The leaves of the genus are characterized by having strongly developed parallel ribs on the under surface.
There is no stem, the leaves all springing from the stout root-stock. The flowers are borne on tall spikes which spring from the axils of the leaves. Each blossom consists of four persistent sepals, a salver-shaped corolla with four lobes, between which are fixed the four stamens surrounding the long, simple and hairy style. There are five British species, of which we figure two. The name Plantago is the classic Latin one, from which the English has been evolved.
I. The Greater Plantain (P. major) has very broad leaves and broad, short leafstalks. Stamens short, anthers purple. Seeds black and rough. Pastures and roadsides, May to September.
II. Hoary Plantain (P. media): leaves not so broad, flower-scape shorter. Stamens long, anthers whitish. Seeds brown, rough. Pastures and waste places in a dry soil, June to October. Plant more or less covered with short hairs.
III. Ribwort Plantain (P. lanceolata): as the scientific name implies, the leaves are lance-shaped, long and narrow. The flower-scape is deeply furrowed, the flower-spike short. Stamens long, white. Seeds black, shining. Pastures and heaths, May to October.
IV. Seaside Plantain (P. maritima). Rootstock branched, crown woolly. Leaves narrower than the last, margins more parallel, ribs weak. Stamens pale yellow. Seeds brown, slightly winged at end. Pastures, salt-marshes and rocks by the sea, June to September.
V. Buck's-horn Plantain (P. coronopus). Leaves narrow, linear, divided, or deeply-toothed, suggesting the popular name; ribbed, hairy. Stamens pale yellow. Seeds pale brown. Poor gravelly soils, chiefly near coast. June to August.