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Evergreen Orchid Leaves Brighten The Forest Floor

11-14-18 rattlesnake plantain_U1A0849Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) is a perennial evergreen orchid found growing in deciduous and coniferous forests, often in dry, sandy soil.  While its hairy (downy) stalk of delicate, white, late-summer flowers is eye-catching (see 8/20/13 NC post), the leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain are also works of art. Rosettes of bluish-green leaves emerge at the end of horizonal rhizomes, or stems, that are usually covered lightly by leaf litter.

The common name “plantain” has been applied to diverse, unrelated plants that have broad, flat leaves, the word being derived from the Latin word planta, referring to the sole of the foot. “Rattlesnake” alludes to the resemblance of this plant’s prominent reticulated veins to the scaly skin of snakes.

As is typical of orchids, the roots of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain have a mycorrhizal relationship with fungi that assists the plant in the acquisition of moisture and nutrients, while the plant provides products of its photosynthesis to feed the fungus. Also typical of orchids, the seeds of this species are minute and dust-like, bearing few nutrients to assist in the establishment of new seedlings. Seedling establishment requires assistance from soil fungi, from which the orchid derives the organic molecules it needs until it can make its own food via photosynthesis in its leaves.

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7 responses

  1. Kathy Bales

    An interesting one. On Nov 14, 2018 6:11 AM, “Naturally Curious with Mary Holland” wrote: > > Mary Holland posted: “Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) is a perennial evergreen orchid found growing in deciduous and coniferous forests, often in dry, sandy soil. While its hairy (downy) stalk of delicate, white, late-summer flowers is eye-catching (see 8/20/1” >

    November 14, 2018 at 7:33 am

  2. E. Patterson

    Thoreau described it as ‘the prettiest leaf on the forest floor’.

    November 14, 2018 at 7:33 am

  3. Alice Pratt

    Incredibly interesting! So much info…thank you, Mary!

    November 14, 2018 at 8:35 am

  4. Kathie Fiveash

    This is so beautiful Mary.

    November 14, 2018 at 10:09 am

  5. Maria Van Dusen

    A favorite of granny. Didn’t know it was an orchid. Didn’t look to see if you had some in your terrariums.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    November 14, 2018 at 10:41 am

  6. viola

    Who couldn’t be charmed by these leaves? The dainty orchid flowers are icing on the cake when you catch them in bloom

    November 14, 2018 at 12:35 pm

  7. Tamson

    One of my favorites. We have a lovely patch of them right next to a trail at the state park I work at. The first year I noticed them sending up flower spikes, I went out once a week to check on them until they bloomed. That patch is one of my favorite things to show people when I do my “Hike With the Ranger” nature program, but because it’s pretty far for a one hour program, not everyone wants to trek out there with me. This past summer, I had a family from the Midwest who were the only people to show up for the program and they were game, so off we went. It was so rewarding to see the whole family get down on their knees and look at the plants so closely and then turn to me and thank me for taking the time to bring them out to see such interesting and beautiful plants.

    November 17, 2018 at 10:13 pm

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