Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort plantain flower head
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Ribwort plantain fact file

Ribwort plantain description

GenusPlantago (1)

This common plantain has dark green, narrow lance-shaped leaves that form rosettes (2). The deep veins visible on the leaves have earned the species the name ‘ribwort’ (4). The blackish flower head is short and stubby and sits on top of a wiry stem (5). These flower heads are still used in a game akin to conkers, in which one flower head is matched against another, until the weakest of the two loses its head (6). This is reflected by a number of alternative names for the plant, including fighters, soldiers and hard-heads. The other names fire-weed or fire leaf refer to the fact that farmers used to judge whether a haystack would be likely to catch fire by feeling a leaf of ribwort plantain to see how much moisture was left in the hay (5).

Also known as
fighters, fire-weed, hard-heads, soldiers and sailors.
Leaf size: 2 - 30 x 0.5 - 3.5 cm (2)

Ribwort plantain biology

Ribwort plantain is a perennial species (2). The flowers are present from April to August, and are pollinated by wind, beetles and flies (7). The pollen of this species is one of the culprits responsible for hay-fever in many people (6). The seeds, which ripen from June to September, are long-lived (3) (7).

Historically, this plant has been put to many uses. The leaves have been used to stanch dress wounds, and to treat a range of illnesses such as diarrhoea, sinusitis, asthma, and bronchitis. The seeds have been used as a laxative and to treat parasitic worms. The seeds have also been used to stiffen cloth; they are surrounded by a coat of mucus that is removed by soaking the seeds in hot water, the resulting liquid stiffens the material (7).


Ribwort plantain range

This native plant is widespread and common throughout Britain (3). Pollen analysis has shown that the plant spread as Neolithic farming increased and the extent of the wild forest decreased (6). Ribwort plantain also occurs in much of Europe, except the far north, North Africa, and north and central Asia. It has been introduced to many other temperate countries (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

Ribwort plantain habitat

Occurs in a great variety of habitats, including meadows, pastures, upland grasslands, roadsides and river banks, sand dunes, cliffs, waste ground, on cultivated land, lawns and on walls (3).


Ribwort plantain status

Not threatened (3).


Ribwort plantain threats

This plant is not threatened.


Ribwort plantain conservation

Conservation action is not required for this species.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

Find out more

For more on British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit the website of Plantlife, the wild plant charity:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk


Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2004): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G., and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles-3rd Edition . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Botanical.com - a modern herbal (January 2004): http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/plarib48.html
  5. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  6. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing, Ltd., Oxford.
  7. Plants for a Future database (January 2004): http://www.scs.leeds.ac.uk/cgi-bin/pfaf/arr_html?Plantago+lanceolata

Image credit

Ribwort plantain flower head  
Ribwort plantain flower head

© Nigel Downer / www.photoshot.com

NHPA/Photoshot Holdings Ltd
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United Kingdom
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