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Any of about 265 species of familiar garden, lawn, and roadside weeds in the genus Plantago of the family Plantaginaceae. Distinctively, the leaves lack a proper blade. What appears to be a blade is an expanded petiole (leafstalk), with several parallel main veins, emerging at the base of the stalk. Small flowers are borne in spikes or heads atop long leafless stalks. The greater plantain (P. major) provides seed spikes for bird food. Ribwort, or English, plantain (P. lanceolata) and hoary plantain (P. media) are troublesome weeds. Some species have been useful in medicine (e.g., as an ingredient in laxatives).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on plantain, visit Britannica.com.