The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 5, 2003


Rattlesnake Plantain

(Photo by Kay Fairweather)

Name: Goodyera pubescens common names are rattlesnake plantain, downy rattlesnake orchid, or net-leaf plantain. It is not actually a plantain, but an orchid a member of the orchidaceae. The rattlesnake part of the name is due to the markings on the leaves which somewhat resemble snakeskin, and at one time the leaves were thought to be a cure for snake bites. The genus name, Goodyera, honors the botanist, John Goodyer (1592-1664) from Hampshire, England. Goodyer made the first English translation of Dioscorides' entire De Materia Medica over 4000 pages. It seems like he must have been a painstaking man who would deserve better than for his namesake plant to have such a confusing common name. The species name is accurate; pubescens is Latin for downy or hairy and is descriptive of the flower cluster.

Rattlesnake Plantain in bloom. (Photo by Thomas G. Barnes)

Where and when found: Along the trail to Old Morse Road in the Conant Land, on November 30. The leaves are evergreen and stand out against the fallen pine needles and dead oak leaves.

Distinguishing characteristics: The plant is easily recognized by its distinctive leaves which are about one to four inches long with a prominent white stripe down the center and a network of white markings. Each plant has four to eight leaves arranged in a rosette, almost flat against the ground. The flower stalk rises straight up from the center of the rosette of leaves to a height of about 10 to 18 inches. The flowers are small, whitish, and inconspicuous. There could be 20 to 80 flowers on a single stalk, seen any time from mid-July through August. The plant has a branching rhizome that travels through the soil and sends up new rosettes all around the original plant. The ones I found in the Conant Land were part of a colony that extended about two yards.

Habitat: It is native to North America and likes to grow in acidic soil in the drier upland parts of oak or pine woods. It likes dappled to deep shade where there are few other ground cover plants except mosses. Even though you may find a lot of plants in a colony, the colonies are not abundant in the woods in Carlisle. Its close relative, the smaller Goodyera repens, is now on the state list of endangered plants.

References: Carol Woodward and Harold Rickett, Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States; Plants Database, US Dept of Agriculture at

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. The organism doesn't have to be unusual. The only requirements are that it exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send in your ideas or a whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito