Greater Plantain

©Neil Wyatt

Greater Plantain

Scientific name: Plantago major
Pushing its way up through the cracks in pavements, the straw-coloured flower spikes of Greater Plantain are a familiar sight. This 'weed' also pops up in lawns, on roadsides and along field edges.

Species information

Statistics

Height: up to 20cm

Conservation status

Common.

When to see

January to December

About

The long, straw-coloured flower spikes of Greater Plantain are a familiar sight on pavements and tracks everywhere. This persistent plant also grows in lawns, rough grasslands, field edges and roadsides - anywhere the ground has been disturbed. Commonly known as 'Rat's Tail' because of the scaly, tail-like appearance of its flowers, Greater Plantain blooms between June and October, but its leaves can persist through the winter in some areas.

How to identify

The broad, oval leaves of Greater Plantain form a rosette flush to the ground from which the yellow-green flower spikes rise up. The flowers are small and packed closely together, and the leaves are tough, elastic and resilient to trampling.

Distribution

Widespread.

Did you know?

If broken gently, the leaves and stalks of Greater Plantain stay connected by strong, elastic fibres. The elasticity of these fibres has made this plant the subject of many children's games to see who could pull the longest before breaking the leaf or stem completely. The look of the stringy fibres has given rise to all kinds of local names from 'Angel's Harp' to 'Beatles' Guitars'.

How people can help

Our gardens are a vital resource for wildlife, providing corridors of green space between open countryside, allowing species to move about. In fact, the UK's gardens provide more space for nature than all the National Nature Reserves put together. So why not try leaving wilder areas in your garden, such as patches of buttercups in your lawn or nettles near your compost heap, to see who comes to visit? To find out more about encouraging wildlife into your garden, visit our Wild About Gardens website: a joint initiative with the RHS, there's plenty of facts and tips to get you started.