Plantago major is an herbaceous perennial plant with a rosette of leaves 15–30 cm (6–12 in) in diameter.[4][9] Each leaf is oval-shaped, 5–20 cm (2–8 in) long[10] and 4–9 cm (1.6–3.5 in) broad, rarely up to 30 cm (12 in) long and 17 cm (7 in) broad, with an acute apex, a smooth margin, and a distinct petiole almost as long as the leaf itself. There are five to nine conspicuous veins over the length of the leaf.[11] The flowers are small, greenish-brown with purple stamens, produced in a dense spike 5–15 cm (2–6 in) long on top of a stem 13–15 cm (5–6 in) tall and rarely to 70 cm (28 in) tall.[4][9]

Plantain is wind-pollinated, and propagates primarily by seeds, which are held on the long, narrow spikes which rise well above the foliage.[9][12] Each plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds, which are very small and oval-shaped, with a bitter taste.[13]

There are three subspecies:[3]

  • Plantago major subsp. major.
  • Plantago major subsp. intermedia (DC.) Arcang.
  • Plantago major subsp. winteri (Wirtg.) W.Ludw.

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