Bulletin 38 - July 1989: "Plantago" in the UAE

"Plantago" in the UAE

by R.A. Western

The Emirates Natural History Group (Abu Dhabi) has records of six Plantago species in the UAE and neighbouring parts of North Oman (mainly the southern Ruus al Jibal). This compares with Chaudhary's definite 11 and possibly 14 species for the whole of Saudi Arabia (1984). Of the 6 species in our records only P. notata Lag. has not yet been recorded within UAE territory proper. K. Muller-Hohenstein (1986) in his collection mostly from Dubai Emirate records P. amplexicaulis Cav. (Hatta & Qarn Nizwa), F. boissieri Hausk.& Bornm. (Al Awir), P. ciliata Desf. (Dubai to . Hatta road) and P. ovata Forssk. (a park in Dubai); while J.P. Mandaville, Jr. (1985) records P. afra L., P. amplexicaulis Cav. and P. ovata Forssk. from the Musandam Peninsula of Northern Oman.

All six species in our records are annuals; 3 are predominantly from lowland, sandy habitats, while the other 3 are found mostly in the hills and mountains. The genus Plantago in the UAE can be very confusing because of similarities of leaf and spike configuration, but it is hoped that the following descriptions and key will help those who wish to study further this interesting herb.

Key to UAE Plantago

  P. afra P. amplexi caulis P. boissieri P. ciliata P. notata P. ovata
opposite X . . . . .
rosetted at base or near base . X X X X X
broad . . . X . .
very narrow X . . . . .
teeth X . . . X .
globular small X X . . X .
globular large . . . X . .
cylindrical long (+ 1.5 cm) . . X . . .
cylindrical short (- 1.5 cm) . . . . . X
open sand and alluvial flats . . X X . X
hills and mountains X X . . X .

(Ed. note: The original chart is available at the bottom of this page.)

Plantago afra L.

A small annual herb covered with tiny, soft, inconspicuous hairs, with a main stem and opposite branches, overall to 12 cm. Leaves opposite, spreading and ascending, linear, to 6 cm, very pointed, upper ones sometimes with an opposite pair of minute prickle-like teeth on outer half. Heads mostly on long, paired peduncles from upper axils. Spikes globular to 1 cm, like a cluster of knots among leaves, with pointed bracts. Corolla lobes 1-2 mm long, pale yellowish white; Feb. - Apr. Seeds brown, to 3 x 1 cm, concave.

Recorded on hills at all elevations from Hatta north to the Ruus al Jibal. At higher elevations it tends to be smaller and more compact.

Plantago amplexicaulis Cav.

An annual herb, very variable in height with flowering stems to a maximum 15 cm. The plant is sparingly branched from base, with soft inconspicuous hairs. Leaves alternate, mostly rosetted at base, dark green, sometimes tinged with red or purple, sometimes twisting, to 10 cm; linear-lanceolate, tapering to a clasping base (= 'amplexicaulis'), occasionally with a few minute teeth. Peduncles from upper axils, leafless, the longest rising above tallest leaves. Spikes ovoid to .1.5 cm long with dark bracts. Corolla lobes 2-3 mm long, pointed, whitish; Feb. - May. Heads appear smoother and shinier than in other local Plantago spp. Capsule about 5 mm long, greenish-brown; seeds dark brown.. Pressed specimens dry out black. Recorded only in hills in the north of Fujeirah and Ras al Khaimah, and on Dibba Plain.

Plantago boissieri Hauskn. & Bornm.

A small annual herb with noticeably hairy leaves and tall, flowering stalks, to 20 cm. Base sometimes thickened with leaf sheaths and stalks. Most leaves in an ascending rosette around base, lowest ones often flat on ground. Leaves lanceolate to 14 cm, gradually tapering towards base; lower, shorter ones sometimes more spatulate. Spikes 3-8 cm long, very occasionally to 10 cm, on long, slender, smooth peduncles erect above leaves; one or two lower spikes much shorter, among leaves. Spikes cylindrical, gradually breaking up on maturity. Corolla lobes whitish; Feb. - May. Seeds minute, very dark.

A fairly common plantain of the Gulf littoral from Sharjah north to Ras al Khaimah, especially on fossil dunes in association with Rumex spp., Ononis serrata and the grass Cutandia memphitica. Rarely in very exposed locations I but among vegetatlon in hollows and on the landward side of dune slopes.

Plantago ciliata Desf.

A small annual, without a stem, with broader leaves than other local plantain spp., mostly covered with furry white hairs. Leaves spreading in basal rosette, curving outwards and upwards, 6-8 cm long by up to 3 cm wide, broadest in centre, bluntly pointed and tapering sharply at base; hairs most noticeable on underside, older leaves turning reddish or orange, especially in arid conditions. Flowering stems to 10 cm, often shorter, erect or curving upwards from centre above leaves. Spikes cylindrical, 1-2 cm long and wide, with hairy bracts; petals minute, pale yellow; Feb. - Apr. Seeds elliptical, brown.

A fairly common species in a variety of lowland habitats including deep sand north of Al Ain, in plantations and in lower foothills, but not along the Gulf coast.

Plantago notata Lag.

A delicate annual consisting mostly of slender leaves and a few flowerheads on bare stems. Leaves long and flat to 15 cm by 8 mm, erect and spreading, lanceolate, tapering towards base, the longest ones with one or two opposite pairs of pointed teeth on outer half, but not near tip. All leaves rise from base, which is slightly thickened with sheathing. Prominent veins run the length of leaves, which are minutely hairy. Peduncles 3-10 cm, very thin, slightly furry like leaves. Spikes are globular to 1 cm, quite hairy, light brown, surrounded by thin pointed bracts, Feb. - Apr.

So far recorded by the Group only at about 5000 ft in the Ruus al Jibal, on a scree slope facing south just to the north of Jebel Qawah.

Plantago ovata Forssk.

A small, silkily-hairy annual herb, often sparsely-leafed when compared with other local plantains, virtually stemless except when upper part of root is exposed in sandy habitats. Leaves all rosetted at base, some spreading, some quite erect, to 12 cm, very flat and narrow, lanceolate with finely-pointed tips. Margins often slightly folded upwards along length of midrib. Leaves taper towards base; in UAE apparently entire, not remotely-toothed. Scapes to 14 cm, though some may be shorter than leaves, smooth and very slender, rising or spread out in a rough circle; on some plants these stems are paired on opposite sides and rise up and out from beneath leaves (see diagram). Spikes roughly oblong to 1.5 cm. Petals minute, rounded, with brown centre; Feb. - Apr.

A fairly common plantain sp. of central plains, both in calcareous sand just inland of the Ajman/Umm al Qawain littoral, and in aeolian deposits abutting the alluvial fans to the east, especially between Manama and Ras al Khaimah.


Some useful references:

Batanouny, K.H., Ecology and Flora of Qatar, University of Qatar, 1981; pp. 154 -156.
Chaudhary, S.A., Genus Plantago in Saudi Arabia, Proc. Saudi Biol. Soc., 7, I984; pp. 239 - 257.
Migahid, A.M., Flora of Saudi Arabia (2 vol.), Riyadh university, 1978; pp. 522 - 523.


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