Goodyera pubescens (Willd.) R. Brown

Downy rattlesnake plantain

The specific epithet pubescens is the Latin meaning "downy" or "hairy," and refers to the downy hairs on the inflorescence. Unfortunately, this is not distinctive, as all of our species of Goodyera have downy inflorescences.

Photo courtesy of Mark Larocque
DESCRIPTION: Plant pubescent above the leaves, 10-40 cm tall (including inflorescence), arising from a branching rhizome supported by a cluster of slightly fleshy, fibrous roots, often forming dense clusters of rosettes. Leaves 4-8, forming a basal rosette, petiolate, oblong-elliptical to elliptical-lanceolate, 3-9 cm long and 1-3.5 cm wide, dark green or blue-green with a prominent white stripe along the midrib and a prominent network of reticulate white markings. Inflorescence a downy, dense spicate raceme 10-40 cm tall, 20-50 flowered, typically cylindrical, each flower subtended by a small, lanceolate bract. Sepals ovate to ovate-lanceolate, concave, 4-5 mm long and 3-4 mm wide, white and smooth inside, the outer surfaces pubescent and often marked with green, lateral sepals typically smaller than dorsal sepal and slightly spreading; dorsal sepal connivent with petals to form a hood over the column. Petals oblong or spatulate, 3.5-6 mm long and about 3 mm wide, closely appressed to the dorsal sepal, white. Labellum deeply globular-saccate to scrotiform, the apex prolonged into an blunt point (looking somewhat like a spout), 3.5-4.5 mm long and 3-3.5 mm wide, white, pubescent outside.

Goodyera pubescens can easily be confused with G. tesselata or perhaps G. repens var. ophioides. G. pubescens can be separated from G. tesselata by the labellum, which is concave in G. tesselata, but is deeply globular-saccate in G. pubescens. Also, the leaves of G. tesselata are smaller than those of G. pubescens, and typically lack the thick white central vein of G. pubescens. G. pubescens can be separated fromG. repens var. ophioides by the inflorescence, which is secund or loosely spiraled in G. repens var. ophioides, but is a cylindrical, densely-packed spike in G. pubescens.

Goodyera pubescens is typically found in dry upland oak or pine woods, usually in sandy, acidic soil. It is also found more mesic woods; in the Baraboo hills I have frequently found it growing in moist cool ravines under Hemlock. In this habitat, the plants frequently grow out of clumps of moss.

July 15-September 5, mostly in late July.

Homoya (1993) records that he observed a small bee, Augochlorella striata, visiting (pollinating?) flowers of Goodyera pubescens in Indiana. As Homoya points out, this bee is also one of the species collected by Catling & Knerer (1983) pollinating Cypripedium candidum.

DISCUSSION: Goodyera pubescens is perhaps the most common orchid in southern Wisconsin, and is well-known to many for its distinctive foliage. The leaves are wintergreen, and Keenan (1992?) has observed that individual leaves last about four years.

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