Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017


Ribwort Plantain leaves beside tarmac path.
The last few days have been dry -
and this plant is feeling a bit old.
Many plants droop a bit when their flowers are turning to seed.
(It was in shade when I went to take it's picture before.)
You know how beautiful dandelions are yet how few people let them into their gardens? Well, in addition to praising dandelions I'd like to recommend Ribwort . . . or Ribwort Plantain . . or Plantago lanceolata if you want to be posh about it, as a delightful garden flower.

It's only recently that I've noticed how wonderful each individual Ribwort plant is. It has shape and poise. It's usually buried in grass but with space around it . .  well, why doesn't everyone have one?

Upright head of Ribwort Plantain beside small holly tree in street.
Like Hollyhocks and Foxgloves,
the flowers work their way upwards so you get to see the seeds forming,
the white stamens with their prominent anthers and the un-opened bits all on the same stem.
I grew a nettle once. It was in a pot and it looked magnificent. In a pot it couldn't spread. In a pot each leaf could be seen distinctly with its beautiful crisp and distinctly ziggy-zaggy borders.

Now I'd like to recommend Ribwort as a plant to grow at the edge of a flower border - with plenty of space around it so its flowers and seed heads can lean elegantly and its leaves stand erect or splay around as they please. Daffodils - well, their flowers are wonderful but their leaves have little to commend them. And as for shape - well, they are nothing but stalks with trumpets on top. Ribwort, in contrast, is a plant of completeness. You wouldn't want to put its flowers in a vase and you wouldn't want to pick its leaves to pad out a display . . . but you might want to stand back and admire it on its own, where it is and with all its elements intact. Like a beautiful human. The person you most admire might have fantastic arms but you are unlikely to want to cut one off and use it as a centre-piece for your dinner party table. Some things just aren't the same when cut off.

Compact head of Ribwort Plantain with yellow flowers behind.
Photos in this post come from plants round the corner from each other.
This one has short and compact heads.
I walked backwards and forwards between the plants to see what other differences there are.
The one with the compact head has narrower leaves.
Someone will no doubt be able to say why.
Something going wrong with precise identification?
Age of plant?
In this picture you can clearly see the 'ribs' on the stem where a head has been broken off.
I decided on the idea that Ribwort Plantains are worthy of a place in our gardens when planning a Street Plant Post. There were a few, flat, broadleaved plantains in the gutters but the lanceolot type were on the edges of little patches of ground in front of houses. They must have arrived inadvertently and either been ignored or taken to heart as regular front-of-garden flowers.
One of the things I find difficult about Street Plant Posts is that it's sometimes hard to get a good angle on plants without including number plates so although I came across a Ribwort Plant growing on its own through pebbles, with a space cleared around it so its full shape could be seen - well, I would have felt too intrusive to have taken its picture. Plants in the gutter aren't too bad to take photos of (as long as you don't get your legs run over.

Ribwort head showing ribs on stem - with tarmac background
The result, then, is that for all that I'm commending it to you, I can't show it to its best advantage. However, of all the photos on this post, this is my favourite and I'm currently using it as my desktop picture. (You can try it if you like.)

I'm not sure how easy it is to grow from seed but for many of us in the UK it's easy to come across so it's worth a try.

As for proper information . . . anything I could say would simply re-hash what can be read on the internet so I'll offer some links rather than waffle about and pretend I know more than I do!

I'll begin with a link to a Wikipedia Page. It's a Glossary of Leaf Morphology which, being interpreted, means a list of the names of shapes of leaves with pictures drawn and descriptions written. It's brilliant. It's a browsing page. Find 'lanceolate' on the chart and you'll see where Ribwort gets its lanceolata from. Even if you aren't won over to Ribwort as a special garden plant, you may well be enchanted by this link.

Ribwort head with frill of flowers at bottom.
I'm really annoyed that I haven't been able to take
a photo of a plant free-standing without number-plates and people included.
And there's only one picture with leaves.
But don't you think the colours are amazing?
That bluey-black at the top?
This head is about an inch long.
And the stem is twenty-four inches. I measured it!
The rest of these links go to Ribwort Plantain Pages on nature sites with more to them than Ribwort so if you have time, you might like to go on an explore.

Wild Flower Guide - Look for Ribwort Plantain in the index down the right hand side. 'Plantain Family' is another interesting one to click.
Nature Gate
Easy Wildflowers
Garden Organic
Emorsgate Seeds - someone actually sells Ribwort seeds!
Nature Spot
The Wildlife Trusts

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And completely irrelevantly - Butterfly Conservation is raising money by inviting you to take part in an auction to sponsor a moth species and have your name printed with it in The Atlas of Britain and Ireland's Larger Moths. Whether or not you'd like to be a moth benefactor, do take a look at this site because the photos of the moths in their 'auction' (it's alright, they're not selling dead and dusty creatures on tall pins) are delightful.
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P.S. It seems to me that the more boring a flower looks, the more complicated it is to understand. (I struggle with ivy). While trying to understand the flowers on a Ribwort Plantain Spike I found a page in Google Books where Macgregor Skene (in the 'Biology of Flowering Plants') explains that the stigma are produced from flowers in the upper part of the spike while the stamens hang from the lower. This is in relation to wind-pollination.
One of the troubles with wind is that it makes plants wobble so my photos aren't good enough to peer into to see what this looks like . . . however . . .  wandering off at a tangent to find out about the book itself I found this interesting and honest explanation on Amazon about the problems in re-producing a book originally published before 1923. I don't know what's significant about the magic date 1923 but . . . one goes, bee-like, from one place to the next . . . ! (I'll resist.)


Anonymous said...

Fabulous post. I chuckled throughout. And I am with you wholeheartedly on the beauty of plantain: ribwort, Hoary and greater. We have them everywhere in our garden. The flowers are greatly underestimated- one really needs to look at them closely to apreciate their magnificence. Good for you for highlighting it x

Rustic Pumpkin said...

I am sure once anyone has one they will have many, as happened to me. They are so underrated as are many of our native wild species of flowers and grass. When we were children we used to shoot Plantain by wrapping the stem around the ripened seed head and 'shooting' it off {a novel, if not vandalistic, way of spreading the seeds for sure} I am sure someone used to chew the leaves of this plant, ribs removed, but would not recommend that!

Pat Tillett said...

I believe I contracted a case of ribwort during an extended stay in the tropics.

Very interesting stuff! The smarter I get, the more I realize that I know so little about many subjects. Plants are one of them...

Alistair said...

Well, I always try to stick up for the under dog. However, back in Scotland, I wont have to cope with bindweed, hooray!