Goodyera oblongifolia

Rattlesnake plantain


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Liliopsida. Order - Orchidales. Family - Orchidaceae. Genus - Goodyera R. Br. Species - Goodyera oblongifolia Raf.

Ecology: A shade-tolerant, submontane to subalpine, transcontinental North American forb. Occurs on moderately dry to fresh, nitrogen-poor soils within boreal, temperate, and cool mesothermal climates. Common in coniferous forests on water-shedding sites; on nutrient-rich sites it inhabits decaying wood. Usually associated with Hylocomium splendens, Pleurozium schreberi, Rhytidiadelphus loreus, and Rhytidiopsis robusta. An oxylophytic species characteristic of Mor humus forms.


General: Scapose, perennial herbs from short rhizomes, the scapes 2.5-4 dm. tall, glandular-hairy, with 2-4 small, non-green, sheathing bracts.

Leaves: Leaves all basal, rosette-forming, with broad, winged petioles 5-20 mm. long; blades ovate-lanceolate to elliptic-lanceolate, 3-7 cm. long, dark green, mottled with white, especially along the mid-rib.

Flowers: Inflorescence a closely-flowered, one-sided, bracteate raceme up to 12 cm. long; flowers pale greenish-white, pubescent, subtended by ovate-lanceolate bracts 4-10 mm. long; upper sepal fused with the 2 lateral petals, forming a forward-facing hood 6-10 mm. long; lower sepals free, ovate-lanceolate; third petal (lip) swollen and deeply concave, the tip recurved; stamens and style fused to form a column 3.5-5 mm. long, nearly concealed by the lip.

Fruits: Capsule about 1 cm. long.


IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Western rattlesnake plantain is easily killed by fire because its shallow rhizomes are very sensitive to heat. Fires that consume most of the litter and duff are likely to have a detrimental impact on western rattlesnake plantain.

Response to fire: Western rattlesnake plantain is very sensitive to fire and has minimal postdisturbance recovery in the short term. Fire reduces the frequency of western rattlesnake plantain, and western rattlesnake plantain is not likely to regain its prefire frequency or cover in less than 10 years.


Pollination: Bumble bees are the most common pollinators of western rattlesnake plantain. Halictid bees and syrphid flies were observed hovering near Goodyera spp. in northern Michigan. The insects sometimes landed on the flowers but were never seen bearing pollinia. The flowers of western rattlesnake plantain are protandrous, making self-pollination unlikely. Pollination occurs as the bees work their way from the bottom of the inflorescence to the top, removing pollinia from younger, upper flowers in the male stage, then flying to another inflorescence and depositing pollen on lower, older flowers in the female stage.

Seed Production and Dispersal: There are many seeds per capsule. The minute seeds of western rattlesnake plantain are wind dispersed.

Seedling Development: Germinating Goodyera spp. seeds 1st produce slow-growing protocorms (cell masses that develop during orchid germination) that develop rhizoids (root-like structure lacking conductive tissues), and then develop scale-like leaves after several months of growth. Greenhouse studies indicate that once a seed has germinated, it can take up to 1 year before leaves are present and 2.5 years before the plant is fully mature.

Vegetative Reproduction: Western rattlesnake plantain rapidly regenerates from rhizomes.

Species Distribution


E-Flora of British Columbia
In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2015. E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 03/02/2017 2:10:27 PM ]

USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Distribution Map photo credit

USFS Plant Database
Reeves, Sonja L. 2006. Goodyera oblongifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2017, February 3].

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum. 2017. Goodyera oblongifolia [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: 2006, G. D. Carr, 2010, Ron Bockelman,