Plantago virginica (Dwarf Plantain)

Plant Info
Also known as: Pale-seed Plantain, Virginia Plantain, Hoary Plantain
Family:Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
Life cycle:annual
Origin:southeast US
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry, disturbed soil; roadsides, railroads, waste areas, fields
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:6 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of spike] Slender spike 1½ to 6 inches long at the end of a moderately hairy but otherwise naked stem, densely to loosely packed with tiny flowers. A spike contains either male, female or perfect flowers (both male and female parts), and  are often cleistogamous (self-pollinating) with 4 erect petals that do not spread out. Petals are membranous, translucent, whitish to light brown, lance-shaped, and less than 1/8 inch long.

[close-up of male flowers] Male flowers have spreading petals and 4 long stamens with pale yellow tips, female flowers have a single style, cleistogamous flowers have short stamens and a single style enclosed in the erect petals. The calyx around the base of the flower has 4 lobes, is sparsely hairy and less than 1/8 inch long. Subtending each flower is narrow, sparsely hairy, leaf-like bract slightly shorter than the calyx. A plant typically has several flowering stems, sprouting up in succession. 

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaf] Leaves are basal, spreading to nearly erect, 2 to 6 inches long, up to 1½ inches wide, mostly spatula-shaped, toothless or with a few small teeth, narrowed at the base or tapering to a winged stalk, sparsely to moderately covered in spreading hairs, and have a prominent midvein with 1 or 2 pair of lateral veins.

[photo of stem hairs] Flowering stems are multiple from the base, erect to ascending, green to purple, and sparsely to densely covered in spreading hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruits are oval capsules less than 1/8 inch long, but slightly longer than the calyx, with the erect petals persisting at the top. The capsule splits open around the middle, the top coming off like a cap. Inside are two light brown seeds.


Native to our south and east, the DNR lists Dwarf Plantain as native to Minnesota but it is more likely an introduction since there has only been one collection, from a roadside near Grand Marais in 1944, which is pretty far removed from the rest of its native range. Even in its native range it has a weedy habit, found along roadsides, old fields, waste areas and other places with disturbed soils. Like Woolly Plantain (Plantago patagonica), stems, leaves and bracts are all distinctly hairy, but Woolly Plantain leaves are more linear and densely long-hairy, flowers are about twice the size, petals are white (drying to tan), always spreading, and not cleistogamous or a single sex. Cleistogamous flowers and erect petals are a common characteristic of Dwarf Plantain; spreading petals are less common.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Arkansas. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in his garden, and in Arkansas and Louisiana.


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