Buckhorn Plantain – Turfgrass Science at Purdue University

Buckhorn Plantain

Buckhorn Plantain  

Biology: Buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is a perennial broadleaf that can be found in sites that are typically dry and consist of neutral to basic soils. Like the closely-related broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), buckhorn plantain can often be found in compacted soils but does not tolerate injury from constant traffic stress. It germinates by seed typically in spring or fall. Seeds have the ability to germinate in relative darkness and can successfully establish and develop into a mature plant; even when surrounded by tall, dense turf. These factors, coupled with its ability to survive low mowing heights, make buckhorn plantain a common weed in low or high maintenance turfgrass.

Identification: Buckhorn plantain is a perennial broadleaf weed that can be found in high and low-maintenance turf throughout the Midwestern United States. The plant produces a dense network of fibrous roots. Buckhorn plantain forms a central, basal rosette. Though it is a broadleaf weed, the first leaves (cotyledons) of the germinating plant are grass-like in appearance and are hairy only on the outer edge of the leaf (margins). As the plant matures, leaf clumps remain in a basal rosette; however, mature plants have the ability to produce multiple clumps all originating from the same crown. The leaves are spear- (lanceolate) to narrowly oval-shaped, are widest at just above the middle point of the leaf length, and are often twisting or heavily curled. Very prominent leaf veins run parallel to the leaf margins which may be entirely smooth or slightly toothed. These leaf veins form prominent ridges that can be easily seen and felt along the lower surface of the leaf. Leaf blades are generally smooth, but can occasionally have long, silky hairs at the base, and are bright to dark-green in color. In a taller turfgrass canopy, the leaves can grow more erect. As the mowing decreases in height and increases in frequency, leaf growth will be more prostrate along the surface of the turfgrass canopy. Small white flowers can be seen branching from dense, cone-shaped seedheads held aloft on an erect, leafless, hairy stalk from June throughout September. In yards that are infrequently mown in the Midwest, the appearance of hundreds of erect buckhorn plantain seed stalks can increase the look of a ‘weedy’ lawn during the summer months. Buckhorn plantain may be confused with bracted plantain (Plantago aristata); however, it has narrower, and hairier leaves and lack the deep, prominent leaf-vein ribs that are characteristic of buckhorn plantain. Buckhorn plantain may also be confused with broadleaf plantain; however, broadleaf plantain has much longer spike-inflorescence (not cone-shaped) and leaf veins appear to originate from a very distinct attachment point to a long, broad leaf-stem (petiole). Buckhorn plantain leaves originate from a very short stem which forms the basal rosette.
Buckhorn plantain grows in clumps of leaves which originate from a central rosette.
Buckhorn plantain leaves have parallel leaf veins that form very deep, prominent ridges.
 Dense population of buckhorn plantain.
 Cone-shaped seedhead with small white flowers.
 Dense groups of seedhead can often appear in lawns that are infrequently mowed. These seedheads can make lawns look very ‘weedy’, even from a distance.
 Multiple clumps of bright green buckhorn plantain leaves in a droughty cool-season lawn.
Though the plants are related, the leaves of broadleaf plantain (left) are much more broad with leaf margins that originate from the leaf stem (petiole). Buckhorn plantain leaves (right) are more narrow with seemingly parallel leaf venation.
Cultural control: None known specifically for buckhorn plantain. Since its primary method of dispersal is through seed, control or removal of the plant prior to seed production is crucial for deterring the spread of the weed. However, mowing practices alone to remove the seed stalks prior to germination will not provide adequate management since the vegetative portion of the plant can tolerate very low mowing heights. Additionally, since multiple plant clusters can originate from the same crown, it is possible to hand-weed buckhorn plantain; however, it is crucial to remove the crown to prevent regrowth.
Biological control: None known specifically for buckhorn plantain.
Chemical control: Both buckhorn and broadleaf plantain can be chemically controlled using similar herbicide products. Repeat applications of two- or three-way mixtures contianing 2,4-D, MCPP, or MCPA are available in multiple formulations at local retailers and can provide adequate control of buckhorn plantain. Additionally, herbicides that contain triclopyr (Turflon Ester) or triclopyr in combination with other herbicides, such as 2,4-D, can also control buckhorn plantain in cool-season grasses. For best results, herbicides should be applied when buckhorn plantain is actively growing. Follow the directions on the product label for suggestions on improving herbicide efficacy through mowing and irrigation practices prior to- and following the herbicide application.

For more information on weed control, search this blog and check out our Turfgrass Weed Control for Professionals Publication.

For archives of past weed of the month postings, visit our Weed of the Month Archive.

Aaron Patton, Turfgrass Extension Specialist
Leslie Beck, Postdoctoral Research Associate

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