Ribwort plantain struts its stuff

June 13th 2017

These images are a striking reminder of the beauty of the commonplace, when you take a closer look.   They show a single flowering head of ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata photographed by David Haines at Culkein Drumbeg on 8th June 2017. This is the commonest of five species of plantain now known to occur in Assynt (see below), found throughout the parish in grassy places on neutral to basic soils. Most of the year it would go un-noticed, but right now the flower-heads are a delight.

Creamy-white anthers, four to a flower, are the conspicuous feature, bobbing in the breeze at the end of long slender filaments, to facilitate wind dispersal of their powdery pollen. The flowers, one hundred or more to a head, are arranged in tight spirals. The side view shows unopened buds at the tip of the head, behind them a band of minutely furry stigmas, one to a flower, then the current crop of anthers, with spent stigmas amongst them, and at the base, the brownish remains of spent anthers.   This shows us that the flowers open from the base upwards, with the female parts carefully timed to ripen before the male, probably to reduce self-pollination.

A close-up, taken down the microscope, shows the structure of a single flower, with four green sepals enclosing its base, the turned-back lobes of the four papery petals, joined into a tube below, and four stamens; the stigma is hidden.

For the record, a fifth species of plantain, hoary plantain Plantago media, which is not mentioned in the Flora of Assynt, was found growing in a lawn at Achnacarnin (NC0432) on 3rd July 2014. It was probably introduced accidentally with grass seed, and is now flourishing.

Ian M. Evans

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