Plantago aristata (Large-bracted Plantain)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:sun; dry sandy soil; prairies, dunes, roadsides, railroads, gravel pits
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:4 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Slender spike 3/8 to 6 inches long at the end of a leafless stem. Flowers are densely packed on the spike, about 1/8 inch across with 4 spreading, whitish, egg-shaped to triangular petals, rusty brown at the base; yellow stamens are barely visible in the center. The calyx around the base of the flower is densely hairy and about 1/8 inch long. Subtending each flower is a narrow, hairy, leaf-like bract to 1+ inch long. Bracts lowest on the spike are longest and spreading, becoming shorter and more ascending to erect as they ascend the spike. A plant typically has several flowering stems, sprouting up in succession.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are basal, erect to spreading, 1 to 6 inches long and ¼ inch or less wide, mostly linear, toothless, stalkless, hairless on the upper surface and variably hairy on the lower. Flowering stems are single or multiple from the base, erect, sparsely hairy on the lower stem and more densely appressed-hairy above.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit, with and without the calyx] Fruits are rounded, egg shaped capsules about 1/8 inch long with 2 seeds inside. The capsule splits open around the middle, the top coming off like a cap.


Large-bracted Plantain is considered native to Minnesota but it's only been recorded 5 times, 4 of which are pre-1940 and the 5th noted as a “prairie garden weed”. We were beginning to wonder if it still existed in the state at all, then after reviewing images taken at McKnight Prairie in 2010, lo and behold there it was. One record from the 1930s was from the vicinity of McKnight so we had high hopes of relocating it there, but our own attempts failed. After communication with Nancy Braker at Carleton College's Cowling Arboretum, we learned that it had been observed at McKnight in the 1970s and Nancy also recently discovered it in one of their restored prairies, though it is unknown if it was there before the restoration or not. At least now we know it does still exist in the state. It may be mistaken for the much more common Woolly Plantain (Plantago patagonica) which is often similar in stature but is much more densely hairy all over and has shorter floral bracts, about as long as the calyx or barely longer. Large-bracted Plantain's long floral bracts should make it distinct from other Plantago species.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken at McKnight Prairie, Goodhue County, and a restored prairie in Rice County. Photos by Otto Gockman taken in North Dakota.


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