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This is a temperate family particularly common at high latitudes of both hemispheres or at high altitudes closer to the equator. In Australia, most species are found in the alps of the south-eastern mainland and Tasmania, although a few extend into drier regions and some are introduced weeds of disturbed places.

Characteristic features of the family Plantaginaceae in Australia include:

  • herbs, with leaves always in a basal rosette, entire or rarely lobed or toothed and usually with prominent, rib-like parallel veins
  • flowers small, borne in dense or loose spikes at the end of unbranched scapes, or (in some alpine species) a few together in a small cluster
  • sepals and petals 4, often membranous or dry and papery
  • stamens 4, exserted from the perianth with the pollen shed into the wind from large, versatile anthers
  • ovary superior with a long, slender, papillose style, developing into a dry fruit that splits transversely around its equator


Annual, biennial or perennial terrestrial herbs. Perennating by rhizomes, taproots or crowns. Vegetative reproduction absent or by rhizomes. Internal secretions not obvious. Plants glabrous, or with simple, non-glandular, uniseriate hairs. Leaves opposite, or apparently in whorls of 3–7 or more, cauline, or all or mostly basal, petiolate, subsessile or sessile. Stipules absent. Lamina symmetric, simple or pinnatifid or pinnatisect or bipinnatifid or tripinnatifid, etc, filiform, acicular, subulate, linear, lanceolate, ovate, elliptic, oblanceolate, ovate, oblong, spathulate or orbicular; base cuneate, attenuate or rounded; margins entire, dentate or sinuate, ±flat; one-veined, or the venation parallel, with the midrib conspicuous or inconspicuous, and the tertiary venation reticulate or not; surfaces not punctate; herbaceous, leathery or succulent. All the flowers bisexual. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, consisting of spikes. Bracts present. Pollination by insects or wind. Flowers odourless, sessile. Floral disc present or absent. Perianth regular, of 2 dissimilar whorls, imbricate in bud. Calyx segments free or fused, with 4 sepals or lobes; calyx bell-shaped or urn-shaped, herbaceous or papery. Corolla segments fused, with 4 lobes, alternating with the sepals or calyx lobes; corolla bell-shaped, salver-shaped or tubular, white, magenta, purple, green, grey, brown or black, without contrasting markings, membranous or papery; lobes ±entire. Fertile stamens 4, opposite to the sepals or calyx lobes, free of or at least partly fused to the corolla, free of the ovary and style, distinct from each other, all ±equal. Anthers dorsifixed, versatile, opening inwards by longitudinal slits, 2-celled; with appendages apical. Ovary superior and sessile. Carpels 2, fused; ovary with 2 (–4) locules. Style terminal, single and unbranched with the stigma clavate. Ovules 1–6 per locule, sessile; placentation axile. Fruit a dry, dehiscent circumscissile capsule; the perianth on the maturing fruit deciduous or dry and persistent. Disseminule macro-surface featureless or mucilaginous when wetted; micro-surface ±smooth, brown, dull. Seeds 1–6 per fruit. Aril absent. Cotyledons 2. Embryo straight.
(Note: this description has been generated from the coded data compiled for the key. Any errors in the key data will be reflected in the descriptions.)

A treatment of the family Plantaginaceae has not yet been published in the Flora of Australia. It will appear in Volume 32.

Australian genera of Plantaginaceae (as recognised for the Flora of Australia)

† = some species native, others introduced


Plantago alpestris (fruiting plant)
Photo: M.Fagg © ANBG 

Plantago glacialis (flowers)
Photo: M.Fagg © ANBG 

Plantago major (flowering plant)
Photo: M.Fagg © ANBG 

Plantago muelleri (flowering plant)
Photo: M.Fagg © ANBG