- Family: Plantain Family – Plantaginaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. With taproot.
- Height: 20–50 cm (8–20 in.). Stem leafless, with arching base, grooved, short and densely haired scape especially at top.
- Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), white, small, fused, 4-lobed; lobes membraneous, quite sharp, 1.5–2 mm (0.06–0.08 in.) long. Calyx 4-lobed. Stamens 4, filaments long, anthers white–pale purple. Pistil fused, a single carpel. Carpels mature before stamens (protogynous). Inflorescence a dense spike, fragrant.
- Leaves: In basal rosette, stalked, procumbent. Blade ovate–elliptic–almost lanceolate, with entire margins–sparsely toothed, with soft, white hairs, thin, parallel-veined.
- Fruit: Brown, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long capsule, opening like a lid.
- Habitat: Meadows, roadsides, banks, lawns, harbours, railway yards, mill areas.
- Flowering time: June–July.
Hoary plantain arrived in the southern tip of Finland during ancient times, and it is quite common only in calciferous meadows in the Åland Islands. It is a more or less established alien as far north as Kemi: imported hay seeds often include plantain seeds and the species can pop up surprisingly on e.g. park lawns. It can survive a long time in yards because its basal rosette lies close to the ground and is unharmed by lawnmowers. Generally speaking, however, hoary plantain seems to be declining year by year with the demise of grazing culture.
Plantain flowers are small and modest, but hoary plantain is perhaps the most impressive of the bunch in Finland. It is able to attract insects to pollinate its inflorescence by virtue of its beauty and delicate fragrance. The flowers are visited by small honey bees and beetles, but it is at least partly wind-pollinated. Successful pollination produces fruit which open like the lid of a box: the botanical name of this fruit type is a circumscissile capsule. The seeds become sticky in the dampness and spread by sticking to people and animals. Hoary plantain’s scientific name Plantago comes from the Latin words planta, meaning ’sole of the foot’ and ago, meaning ’-like’: the name therefore means ’like a footprint or sole’. Plantains certainly spread well with feet, but the similarity referred to is with regards to the leaf form – hoary plantain’s are quite like the shape of a footprint.
Members of genus Plantago all have the same flower, inflorescence and fruit structure. The form of the leaves on the other hand varies greatly and this is often the best way to tell the species apart. Familiar greater plantain (P. major) has leaves that are ovate or elliptic, ribwort plantain (P. lanceolata) has lanceolate leaves and at the other end of the range sea plantain has leaves that are (P. maritima) narrowly linear.