Not too many flowers are found in Pennsylvania woods in the summer months of July and August. Most of the Spring flowers have now turned into berries and fruits. In a few days the elderberries should be near ready to harvest and the blackberries have been yummy this week!
One group that does flower in the heat of the summer is the Rattlesnake Plantains that flower in July and August. We are fortunate to have the most common species blooming in our woods called Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens, a member of the Orchid family, Orchidaceae.
A single, fuzzy flower stalk tipped with a compact group of white flower buds rises up from a basal rosette of mottled leaves. The quarter-inch long flowers will open into the typical orchid-like irregular shape, having a large lower lip overshadowed by a group of fused petals.
Leaves in a basal rosette are oval in shape. The strong silver-white midrib contrasts with the dark green leaves. Veins that cross the leaf and run the length of it are all silver-white giving the leaf a unique, variegated look. The name “rattlesnake plantain” comes from the suggestion of rattlesnake skin by the pattern on the leaves.
Flower spike appears fuzzy or woolly, thus the “downy” part of its name. A few scale-like bracts are seen on the flower stalk.
Downy rattlesnake plantain leaves and roots were used by Native Americans for a number of ailments, but its collection and medicinal use are discouraged today due to its rarity.