If you look at the forest floor in coniferous woods you may well discover Downy Rattlesnake-Plantain (Goodyera pubescens ). This evergreen rosette of broad, rounded leaves gets its name from the similarity of the shape of its leaves to those of plantain, a common lawn weed. In fact, it is an orchid, not a plantain, and is the most common species of plantain in New England. It is distinguished from other species of rattlesnake-plantains by the bright silver markings on the leaves and the broad stripe down the center of the leaves. Each leaf lasts for approximately four years.
As you might assume from its appearance, Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is in the Grape family. This climbing woody vine clings to the surfaces over which it climbs with adhesive disk-tipped tendrils, which are actually modified flower stalks. The disks form only after the tendril has made contact with a tree or other surface, at which point the disk secretes a cement-like substance, keeping the vine attached to the substrate long after it has died. Although it superficially resembles poison ivy, Virginia Creeper has five leaflets (“quinquefolia”), as opposed to poison ivy’s three. Virginia Creeper’s brilliant red fall foliage is thought to attract birds, which consume the blue-black berries and disperse the seeds.
It’s easy to miss Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), as its flower is only about ½” in diameter and the plant only reaches a height of six to twelve inches. Blue-eyed Grass is a member of the Iris family, not, as its name implies, a member of the Grass family, although it does have stiff, grass-like leaves. Dark lines on its petals and sepals may well serve as nectar guides, leading pollinators to the yellow center. Each blossom is open for only a day at most. Typically you find Blue-eyed grass growing in sunny, wet fields, often on elevated soil — Thoreau noted that if you followed Blue-eyed Grass through a wet meadow,
you could keep your feet dry.
Many plants practice “delayed greening” of their leaves, including this Red Maple (Acer rubrum). An initial lack of chlorophyll prevents the leaves from photosynthesizing and making food, which means they have little nutritive value, and thus, appeal, to an herbivore. Most plants that delay greening have reddish leaves due to the presence of anthocyanin, a pigment which appears reddish. A majority of herbivorous insects and invertebrates cannot detect colors in the red range of the color spectrum. Young leaves suffer the greatest predation from invertebrate herbivores. Red leaves would be perceived by these leaf eaters as somewhat dark and possibly dead – not a choice food material. It is possible that the red coloration of new leaves allows the plant to make them unappealing to the herbivores that would otherwise eat them.