The Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

September 16, 2019 By Beatriz

The Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

By Beatriz Lindemann

On a hot, sunny afternoon in June, I went into the forest of my family farm on
Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. It was very buggy and humid. There, I found
something beautiful. I would never have thought that there would be orchids in th
mountains of Tennessee, but there are. In fact, there are about 600 types of orchids
in Tennessee. In the forest, I found a Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid next to a
beautiful lily. The orchid and lily were not extremely colorful. They were pretty
because of the little details like the white veins in the orchid leaves. The orchid and
the lily were surrounded by moss which holds moisture for them. The plants were
growing right on top of the moss.
An orchid is an orchid because it does not pollinate. Pollination is when pollinators –
(bees, butterflies, and some hummingbirds) take pollen from one flower and transfer
it to another. The orchid doesn’t recreate with pollination. On the other hand, the
lily does pollinate. The plantains—that’s what the orchid I found is called—were in a
shady and moist environment under a lot of forest trees. The canopy was thin enough
to let sunlight reach the orchids, but thick enough not to burn it. The Downy
Rattlesnake Plantain likes shady and moist areas, which explains why I found so many
plants about fifteen feet from Coal Creek. It is a twenty foot wide creek which runs
all year round.
The plantains do not have a stem, so the leaves are very close to the forest floor.
They are about the size of the palm of an adult’s hand. The leaves are oval-shaped,
3-8 centimeters long and 1.5-3 centimeters wide. They are kelly green and have white
veins. In the center of all the leaves is a small bulb which is the same color as the
leaves. The plantains live about three to four years. I found plantains both alone and
in groups. They are called “Rattlesnake” because of the life cycle of the plant. They
lose their leaves, like a snake loses its skin; and then they grow back.
The Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid is native to eastern North America. It can also
be found in many oceanic islands such as Australia. I found mine in Tennessee, but
they can also be found elsewhere in the United States. These Plantains are
endangered in some states such as Florida.
It was fascinating for me to see these beautiful native orchids. I like plants that are
native because no one has planted them and they are just wild. They belong where

they are. Finding native orchids is a passion of mine and I love to find orchids in the
woods because discovering and researching flowers that are wild is so very

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