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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Water Plantain. Alisma plantago-aquatica

Image courtesy of Christian Fischer.  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.AlismaPlant1.jpg

Introduction.

The water plantain despite its name is not a plantain in the true sense of the word, and is in fact widely different to the Plantago species and belongs to an entirely separate order ,the Alismaceae. It is a water plant that is widely distributed in Europe, northern Asia and North America. However, in North America it seems other species have been mistaken for this plant and it may not be as widespread as once believed. It has been introduced to many other countries such as Africa , New Zealand and Australia. It is naturalized in Scotland, but also found in England , where it grows freely around the margins of streams, lakes and watery ditches, in the muddy shallows.

It takes its common name from the fact that early botanists saw the leaves were somewhat similar to those of some plantain species and so it was named the Water Plantain, however, they seem to have ignored the fact that the flowers and fruits etc were very different from those of the true plantain species. 

Close up of a single blossom 

Image courtesy of Christain Fischer CC BY_SA 3.0 License.AlismaPlantagoBlossom.jpg

Description.

The roots of this species are fibrous , but the base of the stem is swollen or fleshy, or tuberous, furnished with whitish hairs. From the roots arise large leaves , broad below but tapering to a point, they are borne on long, triangular stalks and are held almost erect. They have a smooth texture and the margins are more or less waved they have prominent veins especially the three either side of the midrib.The leaves are between 15-30 cm long.

From the root arises the erect,tall triangular flowering stem {up to 1 m }, with a branched inflorescence bearing numerous small flowers. They are attractive in form and colour. The sepals are ovate concave and spreading. The petals are a delicate pale pink colour. They are roundish and slightly jagged at the edges and number three.. Their are six stamens and the anthers have a greenish tint. The flowers only open in the afternoon and they are encountered in flower from June until August.

The fruits {seed capsules },  are composed of some twenty or more three-cornered, clustering carpels each containing a single seed.

 

Foliage of the Water Plantain.

Image courtesy of Christain Fischer   CC BY-SDA 3.0 License.Alismaplant2.jpg

 Historical Medicinal and other uses of Alisma plantago-aquatica.

The Water Plantain has long been medicinally and was once a commonly used drug in commerce. According to Mrs Grieve's {A Modern day Herbal}  printed in 1935, the water plantain has diuretic and diaphoretic and was recommended by herbalist to treat gravel, cystitis, dysentry, and epilepsy.

The powdered root and leaves were once employed by herbalists as was infusions and tinctures prepared from the swollen rhizome. In its fresh state it was employed as a homeopathic  drug. Earlier still the seeds were recommended by herbalists  as an astringent in cases of bleeding.

When handling the foliage care must be taken they can inflame the skin when bruised and can cause blistering.

The above information is for historical purposes and not meant as a guide to self medication. 

Fruit of Alisma plantago-aquatica.

Image courtesy of Stefan lefnaer.     CC BY-SA 4.0 License.

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