Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Hooker’s plantain

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Plantago hookeriana Flowering 1597

Here’s a closeup of Plantago hookeriana, known as Hooker’s plantain. Some online sources refer to it as California plantain, but that puzzles me because this species doesn’t grow in California, as you can confirm on the USDA’s state-clickable map. For more information about Hooker’s plantain than you probably ever wanted to know, you can read a two-page USDA publication. If you’re wondering about scale, I’ll add that the portion of the flower spike shown above was probably about 2 inches (5 cm) long. And if you’d like to compare a species of Plantago I’m familiar with from Austin, be my guest, especially as it’s been two years since I showed any kind of Plantago here.

Like several previous photographs, today’s comes from an April 27th field trip to Bastrop State Park led by botanist Bill Carr. Also like the wildflower shown last time, this one makes its debut in these pages.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 10, 2014 at 5:57 AM

19 Responses

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  1. We have plantain throughout Iowa. I don’t know which species. As kids, we would pull a leaf off the plant. It would show some tubular strands at the break off point. That was supposed to tell you how many children you would have when you had a family.

    Jim in IA

    June 10, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    • Was it correct in your case?

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2014 at 7:22 AM

      • Yes. I pulled enough of them so that at least one was correct. It had 3.

        Jim in IA

        June 10, 2014 at 7:34 AM

        • On Long Island, some kind of European plantain grew (and probably still grows) in people’s lawns. We kids would pull one out, twist the stem around the head, and with a rapid hand motion shoot the head off as a little projectile.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 10, 2014 at 7:46 AM

          • I have a link to plantain on my post today. At least I think it is plantain and probably a kind of European plantain.


            June 10, 2014 at 8:47 AM

            • Here’s what my biggest reference book says about the Plantaginaceae: “A small (275 species in 3 genera), cosmopolitan (more temperate and montane) family of wind-pollinated, usually scapose herbs or a few shrubs, the family is of little economic importance except several are problematic weeds.” At your link you talk about the plantain shown there causing your hayfever, and that makes sense (though it’s no fun) because these plants are pollinated by the wind, which so inconsiderately fails to distinguish your respiratory system from a plantain.

              Steve Schwartzman

              June 10, 2014 at 9:17 AM

  2. your macros are soo good.


    June 10, 2014 at 8:11 AM

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm. The key in a picture like this one is to position the lens perpendicular to the flower stalk.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2014 at 8:59 AM

  3. Very beautiful. I love it!

    Mark Mendonck

    June 10, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    • These small plants are often overlooked, but I think it’s better to get close and look them over.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2014 at 1:17 PM

      • They certainly are. This one is worth it to get a closer look such as most of wild flowers.

        Mark Mendonck

        June 10, 2014 at 1:39 PM

  4. I remember pulling plantain leaves as a kid too, but not with the mythology of Jim in IA’s youth. Had I they would have all been wrong. 0 kids.
    We never get much of a chance to see the flowers in my yard, which sadly is the only place I pay attention to them, as the eastern cottontails keep them under control. We have an understanding…they eat plantains and we eat the lettuce. It works.
    This image tells me to start paying closer attention in the field.

    Steve Gingold

    June 10, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    • That’s a good way to put it: the mythology of youth. Also good is the arrangement you’ve struck with your rabbits, especially if the plantains in your yard are invaders from over the ocean. I often see plantains in the wild here, but I don’t usually know which ones are native. Having a guide on this field trip solved the problem for once.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2014 at 3:52 PM

  5. Where did the ‘Hooker’ come from? I’m curious, mainly because I’m distantly related to Joseph Dalton and WIlliam Jackson Hooker both Botanists and Directors of Kew Gardens in London. They travelled extensively recording and importing new species of plants and were contemporaries of Darwin. Can’t see any evidence that they were in any way connected with this plant.


    June 10, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    • According to my most authoritative botanical reference book, Plantago hookeriana is indeed named after William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865), who became a director of Kew Gardens in London. Whether he had anything to do with this species I don’t know; I don’t see anything in the brief biography at


      indicating that he ever traveled to the Americas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      • Thanks for the research effort, Steve. The Hookers of Kew travelled to Asia – the Himalayas notably – and Australasia. I don’t recall any note of them travelling west to the Americas.


        June 11, 2014 at 3:03 AM

        • Most likely, then, a botanist wanted to honor Hooker and attached his name to this species, although it’s still possible that someone sent a specimen of the species to Hooker for identification or research.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 11, 2014 at 6:43 AM

  6. […] Hooker’s plantain […]

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