Aug 09 2011

Now Blooming: Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Published by at 7:10 am under Plants

Here’s an orchid with a very strange name: Downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

“Plantain” probably describes its leaves which are rounded and basal like the common plantain weed.  “Rattlesnake” comes from the rumor that it cures snakebite, though it doesn’t as far as anyone can tell.  “Downy” is the one word that really applies.  It has fine down on its leaves and stem which you can see in photograph above.

This orchid is easy to identify at any time of year.  It doesn’t lose its leaves in winter and they have bright white stripes down their centers and white patterns along the veins.  In my experience we have no other plant with leaves like this.  (Someone correct me if I’m wrong!)

When in bloom, downy rattlesnake plantain’s ghostly white flowers cluster on a spike 6″ to 20″ tall.  The plant’s silhouette resembles common plantain, though the flowers are much larger.  From a distance the flowers look like beads with lips because the petals curve around the opening.

Though uncommon you’ll find this orchid in coniferous woods.  In southwestern Pennsylvania I usually find it on a hill above a creek because that’s where our most common conifer grows, the eastern hemlock.

Watch for this downy orchid, now blooming in our area.

(photos by Dianne Machesney)

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