An Extraordinary Ordinary

A narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) run amok

For such an unpretentious plant, the narrowleaf plantain can be capable of unexpected exuberance.  Wandering through a field filled with plantain, I once found an attractive, sinuous stem. Here, anomalous growth has produced a sight that brings to mind the old saying about “three’s a crowd.”

Of course, this group of three flower heads doesn’t seem at all crowded. It’s simply another graceful example of nature doing what nature does so well: surprising and delighting with extraordinary versions of what we call ordinary plants.

Whatever the cause of the unusual growth — genetics, a virus, a response to injury — the result is memorable and the lesson clear. Even a so-called vacant neighborhood lot may hold unexpected treasure.


Comments always are welcome.

19 thoughts on “An Extraordinary Ordinary

    1. Unfortunately, no. I meant to, but nothing stops the mowers when they begin their appointed rounds.

      By the way, I enjoyed your article about plant anomalies in the latest NPSOT magazine. It’s nice that it’s available now both in printed and online formats.

  1. For those who look closely, there are endless surprises. However, one must arrive and see before the mowers arrive and obliterate. Nice shot!

    1. Your garden surely is a great source of those endless surprises, Tina. I’d bet that you do a bit of wandering, morning or evening — or both. Not only that, you get to control the amount of mowing, trimming, and weeding that’s done. That’s a definite plus.

    1. It does, Debbie — I like your interpretation. I think Henry David Thoreau would like it, too. It’s his 200th birthday today, and I always enjoy remembering his caution that, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

    1. When I moved to Liberia, I was confused when they told me those green, banana-looking things were called plantains. I’d only known plantains as little “weeds” that grew in the lawn. In fact, bananas and banana-like plantains (also known as cooking bananas) are in one family, and these lawn plantains are in another. They aren’t related at all — except that both are plants.

      So, how did they end up with the same name? From this entry in the OED, it seems to me that slightly different paths led to both being named for the shape of their leaves. So there we are!

      The USDA maps show both broad-leaved and narrow-leaved in your neighborhood. Apparently the plant has lots of uses, including relief of insect stings, and it’s also nutritious. I wonder which wine the cork poppers would recommend to accompany a plate of plantain greens?

      1. Interesting thing about the wines. Probably a white! Usually whites with salads and white meats (fish, chicken) though I’m not a purist and will drink wine with about anything!

        1. You know, the choice of a white is exactly right. In Liberia, the local palm wine would qualify as a white. The process of “producing” it’s a little different, though. All you need do is climb a palm tree, hang a bucket, and cut off the top. Another tidbit about palm wine: the longer it sits, the more it ferments. After a while, it’s yeasty enough that you can use it to bake bread. Rick would like that!

  2. One person’s vacant lot is another’s little paradise. When I was growing up, we lived for almost 10 years next to a vacant (corner) lot, and I remember finding many wonders there.

    1. There are two sides to that coin: vacant lots never are, and kids are natural explorers. Not only that, parents were more inclined to say things like, “Stop sitting around this house! Go outside and find something to do.” And we did.

  3. I like the idea of a humble weed expressing “unexpected exuberance”. It’s cousin (I guess?) the broadleaf plaintain, is a favorite of my sister’s tortoises, and I’ve tried it, a bit bitter and tough, but not bad.

    1. An exuberant weed? As my mother used to say, “Who’d a thunk it?” That started me wondering where that phrase came from, and I found it. The phrase was coined in the 1930s and ’40s by Mortimer Snerd, the ventriloquist dummy voiced by vaudeville star Edgar Bergen. That explains why it would have entered my mom’s vocabulary; even I remember Mortimer Snerd.

      The eat-the-weeds sites confirm your memory of plaintain-as-salad-green. Eat it early, they say, just like dandelion greens. Young plants apparently are tender, and more palatable.

    1. That makes two of us, Dina — I’d never seen such a plantain, either. I do enjoy the little quirks of nature, and there’s always a surprise or two lurking around. Today, it was baby birds at the wildlife refuge. You’ll enjoy the moorhen family when I get them sorted and posted.

    1. Had we met yet when I had my cataract surgery? Surely not — it’s been three years.

      Part of my almost-obsessive “looking” probably is a result of having lost so much of my vision, and then receiving it back. I just read my post about the experience again, and feel the excitement of those sharp eyes all over again.

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