September 3, 2017 - Rattlesnake Plantain Now in Bloom
Most people who spend much time hiking through forests have probably seen the unique and attractive leaves of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia). The striking foliage is present year-round, so careful timing is not required. Its flowers, however, are another story. They come into bloom late in the year when most other wildflowers have already withered away, and when most photographers have given up hope of finding any plants in decent photographable shape for the next several months.
As you might recall from my Spring Cleaning blog entry, I noticed rattlesnake plantain leaves last year at Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, just north of Salt Point State Park. I'd seen them at a number of different locations in the Sierra before, but never in great quantities and never in bloom. So when I found at least 50 different specimens along the Phillips Gulch Trail, I took note and made plans to return when I hoped the flowers would be blooming.
On September 2nd, I decided to give it a shot. I was initially disappointed to see that most of the plants were still just leaves, but I eventually found some specimens with tall, hairy stems and tiny, green buds near the top. This wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but it was enough to give me hope and the motivation to keep searching. I hiked at a casual pace for about an hour before finally turning back. I still hoped I would notice something different while facing the opposite direction, but I was beginning to think the odds weren't very good.
Not wanting the entire hike to be all for naught, I eventually decided to just get a picture of the leaves. I found what I thought was an attractive cluster, set up my gear, and finished within a few minutes. As I was beginning to put away my equipment, however, I noticed some more plants a little further up the hill away from the trail. Once I stood at the right spot, I could see that there were literally dozens of specimens all within 15 feet of each other. I excitedly checked them all out, and as you can tell from the picture at the beginning of this post, I'm happy to report that I finally found some rattlesnake plantain flowers in bloom!
For those of you who'd like to see these flowers in person, you can probably go anytime in next two or three weeks, as there were a good number of plants with buds still forming. There's a small parking area on Kruse Ranch Road, about a half mile from Hwy 1. From there, start hiking down Phillips Gulch Trail on the south side of the road. You'll find rattlesnake plantain scattered occasionally beside the trail, but for the large cluster where I got these pictures, you'll have to hike for about half an hour, depending on your pace. (I was carrying a lot of heavy equipment and constantly looking for suitable photography subjects, so don't judge me if you make it there in ten minutes!) After following several switchbacks and crossing a couple small bridges, you'll have to climb over or under a fallen tree that blocks the trail. Just past that, another tree blocks the path, but it's probably easier to just walk around that one. The orchids will be on the right side of the path, just a little bit past that point (maybe 25 feet?). Please tread lightly and carefully; unlike actual rattlesnakes, these plants don't have any way to warn you if you're getting too close.
Previous Entry: Spring Cleaning - March 20, 2017
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All images & text copyright Timothy Boomer. All rights reserved worldwide.