Penn State University researchers would like to recommend plantain to graziers in their state, but can't.

High in micronutrients, this perennial herb also offers reasonable yields and quality. But it doesn't persist well in Pennsylvania, says Marvin Hall, Penn State extension forage specialist.

“We get one year out of it and then it's pretty well done,” says Hall.

However, Chad Miebach, a plant breeder with Cascade International Seed Co., Aumsville, OR, hopes that will change soon.

“I'm working on a new variety that will persist better in cooler climates,” says Miebach.

Hall, with graduate student Maria Labreveux and Matt Sanderson at the USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, has studied plantain several years. Originally from Europe, it was introduced in the U.S. as a grazing crop about 10 years ago. It also grows as a weed in many states.

Plantain is a rosette-type plant with round or narrow waxy leaves. Plants shoot up seed stalks, 4-5" tall with a ball on top.

While plantain didn't persist in the Penn State studies, the researchers like its potential, largely because of its high levels of micronutrients like magnesium and calcium.

“In a mix with grasses it could help prevent nutrient deficiencies, such as grass tetany, in animals,” says Labreveux. “In our studies, the crude protein content of plantain has been very similar to orchardgrass — about 17%.”

Plantain had good digestibility, with an average NDF of 40. It's fairly drought-tolerant, too.

It's also thought to have anthelmintic — or natural parasite deterrent — characteristics, says Miebach. He tells graziers to use plantain as part of a pasture mix. “I suggest it as a 10-15% component in a pasture; it works well with orchardgrass, ryegrass or white clover.”

Cascade International currently sells two plantain varieties: Tonic and Lancelot.

“Tonic works best in the coastal regions of the West — from northern California all the way up to coastal British Columbia,” says Miebach. “There are a few other areas where it does well, too, such as northern Georgia.

“Lancelot is more cold-tolerant. It works best in zones 6-9 on the cold-hardiness scale, but it needs ample moisture. It's done well in Arkansas, but won't work in southern Louisiana and northern Florida because of the intense heat and humidity those areas get in the summer.”

For seed, call Cascade at 503-749-1822.