I was walking with Stub across the road from the house In Mary's Woods a couple of weeks ago. I know this small parcel of land very well. I have been stomping around there going on 40 years. So I notice when something is out of place, or some new change has happened.
Near the intersection of Trail #1 and Trail #2, I noticed about 50 yards off the trail some stakes had been driven into the ground. I walked over and inside the border of wooden stakes marked with orange surveyors tape, I found several small patches of an unusual plant I had never seen before. The stewards of this small nature preserve had obviously found a special plant. A plant they felt was worthy enough to identify for future perusal.
It is nothing special in the scheme of cool plants that grow everywhere up here. But the fact that I have been screwing around in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire for most of my life now, I had never seen this particular plant. So I went home and tried to look it up........Right. With over 400 plants on Maine's rare plant list, I knew it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. After several lengthy sessions of Internet searching, I gave up. I ended up asking Carl, one of the stewards of Mary's Preserve, what was up with the stakes. Rattlesnake plant was his answer. And yes, it is fairly rare here in Maine, especially this far south.
I mentioned to Carl he may want to remove the stakes. Some flounder is likely to dig them up and try and replant them in their dooryard. He agreed and will remove the stakes and replace them with a simple marker only seen once one is almost on top of them.
Okay, I had a name now. There are plants all over the World with "rattlesnake" in their name. I guess that diamond pattern is a popular go to pattern for plants as well as snakes. Sifting through them took some time, but eventually I found a picture and a real name for the plant.
Goodyera Repens is an orchid that has to have just the right combination of conditions to make a stand in the wild. They seem to only be found in cooler northern climes in boreal forests at least 95 years old. They do not tolerate being disturbed. Logging, soil changes, etc will wipe them out in a heartbeat. It takes about 7 years for a plant to mature enough to flower. With the single stalk in bloom, they stand a stately 30cm or so. For you metrically challenged folks out there, that translates to around a foot tall.
What is really interesting I guess is that while finding this rare plant not more than a 5 minute walk from my dooryard is cool and all, what really fascinates me is how much information can be deduced from it's discovery. I knew Mary's Woods had once been farm land. There are old pictures taken from our hill back in the late 1800s. In every direction were fields. North, South, East, West - fields as far as the eye could see. Now there are nothing but huge trees and dense pucker. Mary's Woods is one of the few areas that has never had serious pucker. Just big white pines as a canopy and short undergrowth at ground level. This plant taking up residence in those woods tells me it has been at least a century since that land was tilled. Another mystery I sometimes wondered about has been patially solved.
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