Plantain Family

California Plantain © DSchiel

Plantaginaceae (plan-tu-jin-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Diverse family of mostly annuals and herbaceous perennials
  • Simple leaves that lack stipules
  • Inflorescence subtended by a single bract
  • Flowers often 2-lipped

Description (Jepson)

  • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
    • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
    • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
    • Flower parts in fours and fives
    • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
    • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
    • Taproot system
  • Annuals, herbaceous perennials, and, rarely, shrubs
    • Includes a few aquatic species
  • Leaves
    • In basal rosettes or on the stem (cauline)
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) or opposite (2 leaves at each junction with stem)
    • Simple (not divided into leaflets), with smooth (entire), lobed, or toothed edges
    • Venation sometimes parallel
    • Lack stipules (pair of leaf-like structures at the base of the leaf stalk)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in a variety of forms, each with a single bract (modified leaf) at the base
    • Unisexual or bisexual, radially- or bilaterally-symmetric flowers
    • Often 2-lipped, e.g. Penstemon species
      • Upper lip with 2 lobes
      • Lower lip with 3 lobes
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment other flower parts) to inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts) (Simpson 2019)
  • Fruit is usually a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • Approximately 2000 species worldwide, usually in temperate zones
    • Includes snapdragons (Antirrhinum species), hyssops (Bacopa and Gratiola species), Chinese houses (Collinsia species), foxgloves (Digitalis species), beard tongues (Keckiella and Penstemon species), plantains (Plantago species), and speedwells (Veronica species)
    • Bananas and other plantains (Musa species), native to Old World tropical regions, are in the unrelated Musaceae family
  • Scientific and common name from the included genus Plantago, from the Latin planta, “foot print” or “sole of foot,” referring to the basal leaves of Plantago species lying flat on the ground
    • Use of the name plantain for the unrelated banana and its relatives derives from their flat, sole-like leaves
  • The Old World genus Digitalis (foxgloves) is the source of cardiac glycosides, which are toxins with medical applications
    • Ingestion of the leaves, flowers, and seeds can be fatal to humans and some other animals
    • Original source of the heart medication digoxin
  • In the past, this family consisted of only 3 genera, with almost all species being types of plantain (Plantago)
    • Based on genetic work, most species traditionally in the Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae), along with the former Mare’s Tail (Hippuridaceae) and Water Starwort family (Callitrichaceae), are now placed in the Plantain family
    • Family members can no longer be recognized by a few common morphological traits
    • Due to its diversity, this family is often divided into tribes
  • Represented by 11 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Simpson, M.G. 2019. Plant Systematics (3rd ed.). Elsevier.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family