Question: This weed has been popping up in my yard. It looks like plantain, but the leaves are narrower. Can you tell me what it is and how to control it?
Answer: The weed you have is actually a type of plantain called buckhorn plantain, Plantago lanceolata. It is also commonly called ribwort, narrow-leaf plantain, English plantain, black-jacks, lamb’s tongue and ribgrass. Buckhorn is a perennial plant that is native to Asia, Europe and North Africa.
Both the broadleaf and the buckhorn plantain were introduced from Europe. They followed the European settlement of North America and, for this reason, one common name for the plantain is “white man’s foot.” They are often used in salads and have a wide variety of medicinal uses.
Unlike the fibrous roots of the broadleaf, or common plantain, buckhorn has a taproot and longer, narrower oval leaves. Its leaves measure 3 to 12 inches in length, are ¾ to 1½ inches wide, and have three to five ribs. The blade of the buckhorn is much shorter than the broadleaf and merges smoothly into the petiole. However, the flowering stalk of buckhorn plantain is much longer than that of broadleaf plantain and measures from 12 to 18 inches. Its dense spike of flowers is about 1 to 2 inches in length and shorter than the spike of broadleaf plantain.
Buckhorn plantain is most common in drier soils with a neutral pH but it will grow in a wide variety of soils, including the sandy, acidic soils we typically have in South Jersey. It flowers between May and October and its seed heads remain for most of the winter, providing food for goldfinches and other seed-eating birds. It is also a great pollinator attractant that can create some interesting shape and texture in a meadow or wildflower garden.
Buckhorn plantain is a very common weed in turfgrass and ornamental beds throughout the country, but can be controlled. For cultural control, single new buckhorn plantain seedlings along fences, roadsides, flowerbeds, and in your lawn should be removed before they produce seed. After removal, you will need to monitor the area for several months to make sure that all of the roots are gone and a new plant does not form. When pulling them out, you need to make sure you dig up all of the taproot. Areas with many plants should be isolated and seed heads removed until it is possible to control them. Keeping a healthy, competitive landscape by practicing good soil aeration, avoiding overwatering and using the proper mower cutting height in your lawn will slow the invasion of this weed and discourage it’s growth. Dense stands of turf and ornamentals will shade the soil surface, making establishment of new plantain seedlings more difficult.
For more information on controlling buckhorn plantain, please contact your local extension office. Atlantic County residents can contact the Master Gardener Helpline at 609-625-0056. Cape May County residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Atlantic County Master Gardeners will be available to answer gardening questions and take samples for plant identification or diagnoses throughout the county this spring and summer. You can find us at the Ventnor City Farmers Market: June 7, July 19, and Aug. 8; Galloway Green Market: June 27, July 25; Brigantine Farmers Market: June 15, July 13; and Brigantine Green Fest on Aug. 24.
Do you have a gardening related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to email@example.com; please include “garden question” in the subject line.