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Plantago maxima Juss.


Plantago maxima Juss.


Probably the worst example of negligence, at the species level,  in  preserving the nature  of Transylvania





A species that got lost for the flora of Transylvania, probably even for the flora of Romania for some time but which only now is fully and fooly considered for protection

Us humans are so ridiculous some times. A species for which nothing has been done for more than 30 years and which seems to be dissapeared with its entire ecosystem... and the local authorities now struggle to protect it and the entire area formerly occupied by its habitat.

The story begins with this article published in 1978 by the great naturalist of Sibiu, Erika Schneider-Binder (who later emigrated to Germany). Here on a tiny map she pinpointed the last four populations of Plantago maxima which remained in the area. The study is extremely well documented in the well known Germanic style of the author, comprising also a lot of releves from the place and a deep comparison of the Sibiu habitats of the species with the habitats from its main range (central Eurasian forest-steppes and steppes) by using the available Russian literature.

Unfortunately more than thirty years passed without any strong intention to protect this exceptional species there, in probably its unique locality from Romania. We visited and thoroughly searched the area and especially the places indicated on the map by Schneider-Binder with the sad conclusion that the species is gone and with it also its habitat - the mesohygrophile meadow-steppe grasslands developed on gleyic chernozems. Actually from these a few patches remained east from DJ 106B (the road between Sura mica and DN1 highway) and much more surfaces west from it on both banks of the Ruscioru rivulet.

What is ridiculous is that on a PUG (this stands for 'general urbanistic plan') project adopted on 15th of July 2009 (see this article) the species is considered now, after its extinction, for full protection along with its habitats north from Ruscioru rivulet and east from DJ 106B. In that area the higrophyle meadow-steppe habitats and the species Plantago maxima are virtually completely gone. However a lot of businessmen seem to be worried that 'the Giant Plantain hinders the development of Sibiu city' as sounds the title of that article published in a local newspaper.

Sincerely we would like to be wrong with the above assertion that species is lost near Sibiu, but this is the fact found by us in the field. We would be very happy to be proved wrong in the future but chances are slim. Also we would ask the naturalists going there for investigations to be very cautious not to mistake Plantago maxima a totally 'anti-cultural relic' for the ruderal weed and 'friend-of-humans'  Plantago major which in the humid conditions of some grassy patches there provides huge individuals that resemble somehow the 'Giant' Plantain Plantago maxima.

A note about the presence of this species in south-western Romania around the village of Cotofenii din Fata (Dolj county) is included in Ciocarlan (Flora of Romania, 2000). However we don't know the source of this citation, unfortunately. In august 2006, unfortunately under the pressure of time we visited the village and we found a lot of watery fields full of Plantago major and nothing else. However we had no time at all for a thorough investigation.

Because the floodplain grassland habitats are the first to be under the pressure of human everywhere in the world and in Transylvania as well the chances that this species will be found elsewhere in the region are slim but who knows - we still hope. Here you can see the emplacement of the former last five populations of Plantago maxima which still existed in 1978 according to Schneider-Binder.

Plantago maxima photographed in its unique locality from central Hungary - from Farkas, S (1999) - The protected plants of Hungary (in Hungarian), Mezogazda Kiado, Budapest. In the image to the right, from the same book you can see (in Hungarian) the situation of the plant in this country and the punishment for its illegal collection. Please remark from comparing the photos above and below that the huge leaves of Plantago maxima always stand upwards, has longer petioles than the lamina of the leaf (in most cases) and are not abruptly contracted into the petioles at the base of the lamina; the spike is clearly thicker and shorter in comparison with the one of ruderal Plantago major.

A large individual of Plantago major , a common ruderal species relatively related to Plantago maxima. The photograph was taken right on the former emplacements of one of the former populations of Plantago maxima from near Sibiu. We assume that these huge individuals of Plantago major can allure some naturalists to erroneously consider them Plantago maxima. Stay away from such mistakes.

The rare species (which seemingly are quite related) Plantago maxima (1) and Plantago cornuti (2) an image from Pauca, A., Nyarady, E.J. (1961) - Plantaginaceae in Savulescu,T. (edit.) - Flora Reipublicae Popularis Romanicae vol. VIII, Ed. Academiei RPR, Bucuresti.

The common species Plantago major (3, left and middle) and Plantago media (1, right) an image from Pauca, A., Nyarady, E.J. (1961) - Plantaginaceae in Savulescu,T. (edit.) - Flora Reipublicae Popularis Romanicae vol. VIII, Ed. Academiei RPR, Bucuresti. Sometimes Plantago media can provide in much humid conditions quite large individuals which can resemble Plantago maxima especially when the naturalist is eager to recover the species:) However, the plant has always very short petioles and the lamina of the leafs is always short hairy.

The Eurasian range of Plantago maxima - from Schneider-Binder, E. (1978) - Zur Okologie und Zonologie des Riesenwegerichs (Plantago maxima Juss. ) - Muzeul Bruckenthal, Studii si Comunicari seria Stiintele Naturii 22: 137-172. After downloading the article please add the extension .pdf to the name of the file.
















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