Sweet Indian Plantain
Aster family (Asteraceae)
This herbaceous perennial plant is 3-7' tall and usually unbranched,
except where the inflorescence occurs.
The central stem is light green to light reddish green, glabrous to
sparsely pubescent, terete, and sometimes shallowly grooved. Sometimes the
central stem is also glaucous. The alternate leaves are up to 10" long
and 6" across, becoming gradually smaller as they ascend. The lower to
middle leaves are hastate or deltate (triangular) in shape and serrated
along their margins; the upper leaves are deltate or lanceolate in
shape and serrated along their margins. The lower and middle leaves
have winged petioles up to 5" long, while the upper leaves are nearly
sessile. The tips of leaves are acute to narrowly acute, while their
indented, truncate, or broadly wedge-shaped. The basal lobes of hastate
leaves are deltate with acute tips. The upper and lower surfaces of the
leaves are medium green and glabrous. Leaf venation is pinnate. The
central stem and axillary stems from the upper leaves terminate in a
panicle (or compound corymb) of flowerheads that is more or less
flat-headed. The branches and peduncles of this
inflorescence are light green, mostly glabrous, and sometimes glaucous
(however, minute hairs may be visible with a hand lens).
flowerheads have 20-40 perfect disk florets and no ray florets; they
are 8-12 mm. long and short-cylindrical in shape, although swelling
slightly above while blooming. The corollas of the disk florets are
in shape, and deeply 5-lobed above. The base of each flowerhead is
surrounded by linear phyllaries (floral bracts) in a single series;
these phyllaries are light green to nearly white and glabrous.
Underneath the base of each flowerhead, there are several linear
bractlets that are widely spreading and up to 8 mm. long. These
bractlets are light green to nearly white and glabrous; sometimes their
tips curl upward. The blooming period occurs during late summer to
early autumn, lasting about 2-3 weeks. The flowerheads have a pleasant
sweet fragrance. Afterwards, fertile disk florets are replaced by
achenes with tufts of white or tawny hair; they are distributed by the
wind and perhaps by water. Mature achenes are about 6 mm. (¼") long,
bullet-shaped, and brownish. The root system is shallow and coarsely
fibrous. Sometimes clonal offsets develop from the root system.
The preference is light shade to full sun, wet to moist conditions, and
soil containing silt, loam, or calcareous sand. This plant can spread
aggressively in gardens.
Range & Habitat:
Plantain is uncommon in northern Illinois and rare elsewhere within the
state, where it is native (see Distribution
Map). Habitats include
borders of bottomland woodlands, edges of soggy thickets, river bottom
prairies, stream banks, and calcareous fens (including sandy fens). The
occasional floods along rivers and streams may play an important role
in maintaining populations of this species. Such disturbance may reduce
competition from less flood-tolerant plants and create areas of exposed
topsoil that can be colonized. Sweet Indian Plantain is found in both
high quality habitats and more disturbed habitats in floodplain areas.
Associations: Very little is known about
for Sweet Indian Plantain. The nectar and pollen of the flowerheads
probably attract a variety of insects, including bees,
wasps, flies, small to medium-sized butterflies, skippers, and
moths. An aphid (Uroleucon sp.)
has been reported to feed on the foliage and plant juices of this
plant (Blackman & Eastop, 2013). White-tailed Deer also browse
on the foliage (Sharp, 2001).
A prairie in Fayette County,
Illinois. The photographs were taken by Keith & Patty Horn
(Copyright © 2015).
Sweet Indian Plantain (Hasteola
suaveolens) has striking triangular-shaped leaves. Because
is uncommon throughout its range, it should be cultivated more often.
In the past, this plant has been assigned such scientific names as
Cacalia suaveolens and Synosma suaveolens.
Another common name of this species is False Indian Plantain. It is
appearance to some Arnoglossum spp. (Indian
including Pale Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum atriplicifolium)
Prairie Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum tuberosum).
Sweet Indian Plantain
can be distinguished from these species by its deltate and hastate
leaves; its flowerheads also have conspicuous spreading bractlets at
their bases that
these other species lack.