How to Grow the Rattlesnake Plantain

Goodyera schlechtendaliana

orchidgalore from New York, USA / Wikimedia Commons

In This Article

The Goodyera genus consists of around 25 species and even more varieties of flowering orchids worldwide. The species often use the common name of rattlesnake plantain, especially in North America. However, despite such a wide growing range around the world, it can be difficult to find Goodyera plants. And many of the species are threatened or endangered due to deforestation. Thus, they also are difficult to find in nurseries. But if you do, it doesn't take a master gardener to care for them. And the plants are quite rewarding with their beautiful foliage and flowers.

Goodyera plant appearance varies among the species, though they do share many traits in common. The elliptic, medium to dark green leaves of these perennial plants grow in a loose rosette at the orchid’s base. The leaves sometimes have white or light green markings. The flower stalk raises from that rosette and bears clusters of tiny, usually white (or white with some green or brown), often fragrant flowers. Fine, slightly sticky hairs cover the flower stalk. When not in bloom, it can be difficult to tell some rattlesnake plantain species apart just by their leaves. These plants have a moderate growth rate but might take several years before blooming. They should be planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed.

Botanical Name  Goodyera
Common Names Rattlesnake plantain, jade orchid
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 1–2 ft. tall and wide (on average)
Sun Exposure Partial
Soil Type Rich, moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Summer, fall
Flower Color  White 
Hardiness Zones Varies among species
Native Area Europe, Africa, North America, Central America, Asia, Australia

Rattlesnake Plantain Care

If you're growing a rattlesnake plantain plant, you'll need to adjust its care depending on the specific requirements of the species. Nonetheless, the basics of orchid cultivation don’t change with the Goodyera genus. It’s all about maintaining a proper balance of conditions—including heat, light, water, and fertilizer—and keeping the plant from being damaged by too much (or too little) of any one factor.

Overall, these plants don’t have any serious issues with pests or diseases. And if you provide them with the growing conditions they like, they require relatively simple continual upkeep. Plan to water and feed your orchid regularly, and ensure that the plant isn't sitting in too much moisture or sunlight. 

Light

Rattlesnake plantains grow naturally in the dappled sunlight of taller trees and shrubs in forests. So in the home garden they thrive in partial sun. Make sure not to expose your rattlesnake plantain to too much sunlight, which can cause leaf tip burn and scorch the plant's foliage. However, too little light can result in an orchid that doesn’t bloom.

Soil

These plants generally like organically rich soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. Sharp drainage also is a must. For container plants, a well-draining potting mix for orchids is typically fine.

Water

Rattlesnake plantains prefer even soil moisture but not soggy conditions. Water whenever the soil begins to dry out, but make sure that the plant is not left sitting in waterlogged soil. If your rattlesnake plantain's foliage is wilting, this might be a sign of root rot due to too much soil moisture. 

Temperature and Humidity

Temperature requirements vary with the individual growing zones of each species. But in general, many Goodyera plants prefer mild temperatures. They also like a moderate humidity level and can handle high humidity if there’s good air circulation around the plants. They should be protected from strong winds, which can be drying and damage the foliage. 

Fertilizer

Feed your rattlesnake plantain throughout the growing season (spring to fall) with a balanced orchid fertilizer, following label instructions. Compost mixed into the soil also can be beneficial. If the plant fails to bloom, that might be a sign it needs more food.  

Potting and Repotting Rattlesnake Plantains

Goodyera plants don’t appreciate having their fragile root systems disrupted. So if you’re growing your plant in a container, repot it only when absolutely necessary. You’ll know it’s time when the plant’s roots are protruding from its container and its leaves might be dropping due to stress from overcrowding. Gently remove the plant from its old pot, shaking off loose soil from the roots. Then, repot it in one container size up with fresh potting mix. Make sure any container you plant a rattlesnake plantain in has ample drainage holes.

Rattlesnake Plantain Varieties

The North American Goodyera species that commonly use the name rattlesnake plantain include:

  • Goodyera oblongifolia: Also known as the western rattlesnake plantain, this orchid has blue-green foliage and blooms profusely with small white flowers. 
  • Goodyera pubescens: Known as the downy rattlesnake plantain, this plant has blue-green leaves with white markings and a flower stalk with downy hairs. 
  • Goodyera repens: This species is called the dwarf rattlesnake plantain and typically grows less than a foot tall. 
  • Goodyera tesselata: Commonly referred to as the checkered rattlesnake plantain, this orchid features green foliage with white markings that give it a checkered look.