Weed of the week

Ribwort plantain or narrow leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolate) photographed in the park by Ian Bushell.

Ribwort plantain is a grassland plant that can and does grow almost anywhere. It is a tough, resilient perennial, as happy to grow in your lawn or through the cracks in the tarmac of an abandoned car park as it is in our reserve.

It particularly likes our field edges and path margins. Its seed can lie dormant in the soil for up to half a century and will germinate in, and quickly colonise, those areas where the reserve’s winter footfall has disturbed the ground or worn away the grass.

It is the primary food plant of the caterpillars of a couple of increasingly rare species of fritillary butterflies that we would love to attract into the reserve to lay their eggs on our ribwort plantain leaves. It is also an alternate host for several species of aphid. It is wind pollinated but insects visit it to feed on or collect its pollen.

The flower and seed heads are grazed by ungulates but ribwort plantain leaves are bitter and unpalatable to almost everything except rabbits. Some ribwort plantain seed heads persist throughout the winter, a valuable resource for our seed eating birds and mammals.

We are only just beginning to understand that the plants we call weeds are vitally important components of our ecosystems.

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