This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Though an Arctic plant this maritime species, like some other maritime plants, is not represented in any ancient deposits. It is found to-day in Arctic and Temperate Europe, N. Africa, N. and W. Asia, as far east as the Himalayas, and in N. America. This plant is found around the entire coast of Great Britain, except in Middlesex, as far north as the Shetlands, and by mountain streams in Yorkshire and Perth up to a height of 1800 ft.
Sea Plantain is one of those species which are more or less confined to maritime conditions, existing there as a halophyte, growing in salt marshes close to the sea with Saltwort, Samphire, Sea Rush, Sea Club Rush, Sand Sedge, Marram Grass, and other seaside grasses that fringe the salt-pans and the coast. It also invades the inland streams in the far north at high altitudes, just as Thrift and some other plants do, growing in crannies and holes.
This plant has the grass habit with only radical leaves, the aerial stems being scapes only. The leaves are smooth, long, lance-shaped, erect,1 fleshy, toothed, with three veins, narrowed into leaf-stalks below, and at the base downy, semi-cylindrical, not flat. The leaves vary in size from an inch to a foot and in other particulars.
The flowers are green, variable in number, borne on a rounded, smooth scape, sometimes hairy. The anthers are yellow, on long anther-stalks. The 4 sepals are not winged, the tube of the corolla is downy, the placenta 2-winged, and the seeds are single in each cell the capsule being 2-celled.
1 In the broad-leaved types they are horizontal.
The plant is 6 in. to 1 ft. high. The flowers bloom in July, opening in fine weather closing when it is wet, and the plant is perennial, propagated by seeds.
The flowers are complete, homomorphous. the tube of the corolla downy, to catch pollen, and the stamens are long and thin, pale yellow, sensitive, easily shaken by wind. In Plantago lanceolata the flower is proterogynous, the stigmas maturing first and the plant is gynodioecious. with female and complete flowers on different plants, while P. media is intermediate between them, being pollinated by the wind and also by insects, and less proterogynous, being dimorphic, with two forms of flower. Some of the species are cleistogamic with closed flowers. This one is pollinated by the wind. The style has two lines of hairs. The stigma is feathery. The anther cavity is small, and pollen is only dispersed if the stamens are violently shaken. The anthers open above. The pollen is a dry dust and is moistened by bees.
Photo. Messrs. Flatters & Garnert. - Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima, L.)
The capsule when ripe splits across, and sets free the large seeds, which fall around the plant, and being winged they may be blown some little distance by the wind.
The plant is a salt-lover and requires a saline soil, and is also a sand plant, and grows on sand soil, or a rock plant, growing on rocks.
It is galled by Mecinus collaris, a beetle. A Thysanopterous insect, Thrips subatra, is found on it, also two moths, Fumca reticella, Gelechia instabilella.
Plantago, Pliny, may be from the Latin planta, sole of foot, from the shape of the leaf, and the second Latin name indicates its habitat.
This maritime species is known by the names of Bucks-horn, Bucks-horn Plantain, Gibbals, Sea Kemps. Sea Plantain.
Lightfoot relates how he "went to Rummy Marshes, about two miles from Cardiff, where we saw large crops of the Plantago maritima, call'd here by the people Gibbals, which the hogs are very fond of. They root up the roots as we saw, and grow fat upon them, as we were assured."
Essential Specific Characters: 263. Plantago maritima, L. - Flowering stem a scape, leaves radical, fleshy, linear, convex below, scape terete, flowers 3-4, sepals not winged.