LESSER RATTLESNAKE PLANTAIN [DWARF RATTLESNAKEPLANTAIN]
(Peramium repens; Goodyera repens of Gray) Orchid family
Flowers - Small, greenish white, the lip pocket-shaped, borne on
one side of a bracted spike 5 to 10 in. high, from a fleshy,
thick fibrous root. Leaves: From the base, tufted, or ascending
stem on one side for a few inches, 1/2 in. to over 1 in.
long, ovate, the silvery-white veins forming a network, or leaf
blotched with white.
Preferred Habitat - Woods, especially under evergreens.
Flowering Season - July-August.
Distribution - Colorado eastward to the Atlantic, from Nova
Scotia to Florida. Europe and Asia.
Tufts of these beautifully marked little leaves carpeting the
ground in the shadow of the hemlocks attract the eye, rather than
the spires of insignificantly small flowers. Whoever wishes to
know how the bumblebee ruptures the sensitive membrane within the
tiny blossom with her tongue, and draws out the pollinia that are
instantly cemented to it after much the same plan employed by the
ladies' tresses, must use a good lens in studying the operation.
To the structural botanist the rattlesnake plantains form an
interesting connecting link between orchids of d1stinct forms. In
them we see a tendency to lengthen the pollen-masses into
caudicles as the showy orchis, for example, has done. "Goodyera
probably shows us the state of organs in a group of orchids now
mostly extinct," says Darwin; "but the parents of many living
It has been said that the Indians use this plant to cure bites of
the rattlesnake; that they will handle the deadly creature
without fear if some of these leaves are near at hand - in fact,
a good deal is said about Indians by palefaces that makes even
the stolid red man smile when confronted with the white man's
tales about him. An intelligent Indian student declares that none
of his race will handle a rattlesnake unless its fangs have been
removed; that this plant takes its name from the resemblance of
its netted-veined leaves to the belly of a serpent, and not to
their curative powers; and, finally, that the Southern tribes,
especially so reverence the rattlesnake that, far from trying to
cure its bite, they count themselves blessed to be bitten to
death by one. Indeed, the rattle, a sacred symbol, has been
employed in religious ceremonies of most tribes. Snakes may be
revered in other lands, but only in America is the rattlesnake
worshipped. Among the Moquis there still survives much of the
religion of the snake-worshipping Aztecs. Bernal Diaz tells how
living rattlesnakes, kept in the great temple at Mexico as sacred
and petted objects, were fed with the bodies of the sacrificed.
Cortes found a town called by the Spaniards Terraguea, or the
city of serpents, whose walls and temples were decorated with
figures of the reptiles, which the inhabitants worshiped as gods.
The DOWNY RATTLESNAKE PLANTAIN (P. pubescens), usually a taller
plant than the preceding, with larger cream-white,
globular-lipped flowers on both sides of its spike, and
glandular-hairy throughout, has even more strongly marked leaves.
These, the most conspicuous parts, are dark grayish green,
heavily netted with greenish or silvery-white veins, silky to the
touch, and often wavy edged. This plant scarcely strays westward
beyond the Mississippi, but it is common East. It also blooms in
midsummer, and shows a preference for dry woods where oak and
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