Rattlesnake Master – Complete Guide To Eryngium Yuccifolium


For a head-turning display of unique and interesting blooms in the middle of Summer, look no further than Rattlesnake Master. The cactus like leaves and white-green prickly spherical flowerheads will draw countless pollinators and are trouble free. This profile on this amazing Native Plant will give you the low-down on everything you need to know about this wonderful flower.

In this article:

What is Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to the Central and Eastern United States. Scientifically known as Eryngium yuccifolium, it will grow 4-5′ tall in full sun and dry to moist conditions. It will bloom interesting round white-green flowerheads for up to two months and attract bees, butterflies, skippers, and moths.

Growing best in poor soil or near competition, Rattlesnake Master can be considered a triple-crown perennial in that it does 3 things extremely well:

  • Rattlesnake Master has a long bloom duration of roughly two months or more.
  • Attracts amazing numbers of pollinators.
  • It has one of the most interesting flower structures native to North America.

Perfect for a micro-prairie or in a densely planted ‘hellstrip’, this tough native isn’t bothered by pests or disease, and can thrive in inhospitable conditions. Growing in poor soil or among other closely planted competitors will give the best results with tall, erect plants. If Rattlesnake Master is grown in fertile soil, in uneven light, or isolation it may lean or flop over.

Interesting Facts about Rattlesnake Master

  • The origin of it’s common name “Rattlesnake Master” can be attributed to the Native Americans, who believed that an infusion of the root could cure snakebites. Research conducted in 2016 did find evidence that compounds within the plant can have an effect in-vitro on treating venom. [11]
  • The large linear leaves look similar to leaves of the yucca plant. Thus it’s botanical name Eryngium yuccifolium pays homage to his resemblance.
  • A plant truly beloved by pollinators, over 180 unique species have been documented to visit the flowers of Rattlesnake Master.
  • Long lived and clump forming, it’s large size allow it to compete with taller prairie grasses for sunlight.
  • Rattlesnake Master is a member of the carrot family, (Umbelliferae).

Native Range of Rattlesnake Master

The native range of Rattlesnake Master is primarily the Midwest and South Eastern United States, from Minnesota to Texas and East to Florida. Although rarer, native populations also exist in Michigan, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

Native Range of Rattlesnake Master. Sources [1] [2] [3]

Rattlesnake Master Reference Table

Scientific NameEryngium yuccifolium
Common Name(s)Rattlesnake Master, Button Rattlesnake Master, Blue Rattlesnake Master, Button Snake-Root, Button Eryngo
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern United States, USDA Hardiness Zone 3-8
Bloom TimeSummer
Bloom Duration, Color12 Weeks, White
Height3-5′ (1.2-1.5m)
Spacing / Spread2-3′ (60-90cm)
Light RequirementsFull Sun
Soil TypesClay to Rocky Soil
MoistureMoist to dry, drought tolerant. Does not tolerate standing water.
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, Butterflies. Larval host for Rattlesnake Master Borer Moth.
Sources [1] [2]

What are the Benefits of Rattlesnake Master

A most interesting plant

The numerous white/green spikey flowers (balls) of Rattlesnake Master are eyecatching and provide this plant with lots of interest. It’s leaves also make it appear similar to a desert plant that would be at home in the Southwestern United States, which can provide foliage interest when not in bloom.

If you want your garden to stand out, this can be a great plant to grow.

Drought Tolerant

It’s large central taproot can help with water storage making Rattlesnake Master drought tolerant. If you have a dry slope, you can consider planting this to provide a nice look without needing supplemental water. I grow a couple specimens in my own little ‘hellstrip’ near my mailbox.

In this image there are two Rattlesnake Master plants, in the rear of this small flowerbed. These are second year plants, although one appears to have had a head start over the other!

Shallow Soil

Rattlesnake Master can thrive in shallower soils like that of the Tennessee glades, which happen to be fairly inhospitable for most plants as they have shallow soil and long periods of hot sun. So, if you have an area that is difficult for other plants to grow due to shallow soil or drought, Rattlesnake Master could fill the void.

Pollinators love it

Rattlesnake Master will attract a wide variety of pollinators. And it will attract quite a diverse array of pollinating insects including all kinds of bees, butterflies, moths, flies, skippers…..the list goes on and on.

In my experience this plant can be as busy as Mountain Mint if sufficient blooms are available.

Grow and Care for Rattlesnake Master

Sunlight Requirements

Rattlesnake Master needs full sun to thrive, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. It does not tolerate shade.

Soil Requirements

For soil, Rattlesnake Master will grow well in clay to sandy loam, and can also tolerate shallow rocky soil.

Moisture Requirements

For moisture requirements, Rattlesnake Master will grow best in dry to medium-moist soil. It can also grow in moist locations, but won’t tolerate flooding.

Maintenance

For maintenance, the only thing needed for Rattlesnake Master would be to cut the plant back to ground in Fall or the following Spring. If you grow it in very fertile soil or without competition close by, it may need staking.

Fertilizer

Rattlesnake Master will not require any fertilizer.

Natural Habitat

Rattlesnake Master’s natural habitat is a prairie, where it’s height can make it long lived in that it can compete with sun with most grasses. It does well in both clay and sandy prairies. It could be found on Oak Savannahs, like which used to cover much of the Midwest.

How to Grow Rattlesnake Master from Seed

Growing Rattlesnake Master from seed isn’t too difficult. The seeds need a cold treatment and exposure to sunlight to help break dormancy. The easiest way to achieve these is to Winter Sow the seed. But if this isn’t possible for you, then cold-stratifying the seed for 30 days in the refrigerator before sowing will suffice. [4] [5]

Note that many native species germinate better at cool temperatures, so Winter Sowing should be the preferred mode of sowing Rattlesnake Master seed.

Process to germinate Rattlesnake Master seed

The following steps assume that you are either Winter Sowing or have already cold-stratified the seed in the fridge for 30 days.

  1. Fill a suitable container with moist potting soil. It should be moist, but not wet. If you squeeze a handful of soil, no more than a few drops should drip out.
  2. Sprinkle 5-10 seeds onto the surface of the soil.
  3. Press the seeds firmly into the soil, taking care not to bury them.
  4. Place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.
  5. Keep the seeds moist by misting the pot using a pump-sprayer or spray bottle to ensure you don’t wash seed away or bury it.
  6. Germination should occur within a couple of weeks.
Rattlesnake Master seedlings

Rattlesnake Master can be transplanted out into the garden once it has 2-3 sets of true leaves. If done early enough, you may be treated to some blooms the first year (I did). However, most often you can expect blooms by year two.

Identification and Characteristics of Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master emerging in the Spring. It’s distinct leaves are already apparent.

Stalk

The main stem is typically unbranched until near the top where it flowers. The overall height is typically about 3-5′ tall depending on conditions and competition.

Leaf

As the botanical epitaph “yuccifolium” alludes to, the leaves resemble leaves from the Yucca plant. They are alternate and wrap around the stalk, primarily at the base. They are linear in shape with spines/ciliate margins, and up to 24″ long by 4″ wide. They are light, pale, or blueish green in color.

Leaves and stalk of Rattlesnake Master

Flower

Umbels of flowerheads on Rattlesnake Master appear on 3-5″ stems at the top of the stalk and have the form of prickly green/white balls 1/2″-1-1/2″ diameter (12-36 mm). An individual plant typically has between 10-40 flowerheads, and each flowerhead will have on average over 100 individual flowers. Flowers are very tiny with 5 white petals, green sepals, pistil, and several white stamens with brown anthers, which when taken together gives the flowerhead a white/green color.

Flowerheads have an aroma that is somewhat similar to honey, although it doesn’t smell as sweet.

The bloom duration of Rattlesnake Master is about 2 months beginning in mid-Summer. As blooms mature they develop almost a blueish hue.

How to save seed

You can save seed from Rattlesnake Master in Autumn. To save Rattlesnake Master seed, collect seed heads about 4-6 after blooming and once the seed heads have turned brown. Then, shake the seed heads in a plastic container to release seed/chaff. Store fully dried seed in a sealed plastic container or zip-lock bag in a cool dry place.

Root

The root system of Rattlesnake Master is of a central tap-root and a large upper rootstalk. The upper rootstalk will expand, producing more plants in a clump.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Rattlesnake Master

Pollinators

Flowers of Rattlesnake Master produce copious amounts of nectar that bring in a dizzying array of pollinator species. Charles Robertson in his amazing 1928 research documented over 180 species of pollinator visiting Rattlesnake master. It attracts both short and long-tongue bees, beetles, butterflies, pollinating flies, moths and skippers. [2] [6]

A huge ‘cloud’ of pollinators above Rattlesnake Master!

Pests

Rattlesnake Master foliage is not bothered by damaging pests. The only insect that feeds on the foliage is the Rattlesnake Master Borer Moth (Papaipema eryngii), which bores into the stalk to feed on the central stem.[7]

Additionally there are some insects that will enter the seedheads and prey upon the seed. Depending on the insect population level, in some years up to 90% of the seed can be rendered non-viable. [8]

Root stock of Rattlesnake Master can be damaged by voles or other root eating mammals. Large populations can face significant damage and loss during the Winter if root eating rodents and mammals are present.

Deer and Rabbits

Rattlesnake Master is deer and rabbit resistant. The thick, tough and spiny leaves dissuade any herbivories from eating or browsing the foliage. The spiky / spiny flowers also stop deer from eating them, as it would almost be like eating a cactus.

Disease

As a general rule Rattlesnake master is not susceptible to disease.

Rattlesnake Master and Dogs

After researching toxicity and Rattlesnake Master, I can find no cases of dogs being harmed or poisoned by this plant. It is not listed on the ASPCA list of plants toxic to dogs or cats. [9]

Where you can buy Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Rattlesnake Master

Garden Uses

Rattlesnake Master is best used in a wild or thickly planted garden bed. The surrounding competition help it grow tall as it won’t have as much sunlight from the sides. It also can grow well in poor soil. In fertile soil it may grow too tall too quickly and tip over. [10]

In this image you can see a couple of my plants ‘leaning’. This is most likely due to irregular sunlight they receive, as they are shaded by the trees in the afternoon. Thus, they ‘reach’ for the sun, away from the trees. The plants that are staying tall are in a gap between the White Cedar trees.

It is best to plant it out in the open where it can receive sun from all directions. Whereas if it only receives sun from one side it may stretch or reach for the sun resulting in the plant tipping over, leaning, or flopping.

So, in poor soil, out in the open it can grow tall and will stay standing. But since the flowers tend to only occur at the top, it needs surrounding vegetation to give it some ‘layering’ of flowers. Grasses can help in this situation as well, as Little Bluestem planted interspersed or Northern Dropseed can help give the flowerbed depth when planted in front of Rattlesnake Master.

One other benefit of Rattlesnake Master is that it has been found to be salt tolerant, meaning that it can be used in roadside plantings. [11]

Companion Plants

  1. Blue False Indigo
  2. Lanceleaf Coreopsis
  3. Butterflyweed
  4. Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)
  5. Royal Catchfly
  6. Blue Vervain
  7. Wild Bergamot
  8. New England Aster
  9. False Sunflower
  10. Orange Coneflower
  11. Black Eyed Susan
  12. Prairie Blazing Star
  13. Meadow Blazing Star
  14. Wild Sunflower
  15. Ironweed

Some companion plants that bloom concurrently with Rattlesnake Master and grow well in similar conditions would be the following;

Some additional companion plants that would bloom before or after Rattlesnake Master would includ:

Medicinal Uses

Native American Tribes had over 50 uses for Rattlesnake Master. The most famous being a root infusion to treat snakebites, which has been recorded as a use of seven different tribes. Research conducted in 2016 did find evidence that all parts of the plant can have an effect on venom in-vitro.[12] However, should one be bitten by a venomous snake, it is still best to seek medical treatment immediately.

Some tribes used the plant as a Panacea, aka it was a general ‘cure-all’ plant that could help with almost any ailment. Some examples of which are using a cold infusion of root or pounded roots to treat kidney troubles or for neuralgia. Various parts of the plant were also used to treat bloody stool, as a blood medicine, treating rheumatism, a sedative, for venereal disease, and the leaves as an antidiarrheal medicine just to name a few. [13] [14]

Final Thoughts

Rattlesnake Master is an interesting plant that is second to none for attracting pollinators. It is one of the longest blooming plants to have in the garden, as well as having some of the most interesting blooms and foliage. A true head turner, you will do your yard, and your local environment a service by growing this beautiful plant.

Find more native plants here

References:

[1] – USDA NRCS. “Rattlesnake Master“. Accessed 21JUL2022.

[2] – Holm, Heather. Pollinators of native plants: attract, observe and identify pollinators and beneficial insects with native plants. No. 595.79 H747p. Pollination Press,, 2014. pp76-79

[3] – Coffin, Barbara, and Lee Pfannmuller, eds. Minnesota’s endangered flora and fauna. pp184. U of Minnesota Press, 1988.

[4] – Voigt, J. W. (1977). “Seed germination of true prairie forbs. Journal of Range Management“, 30(6), 439-441.

[5] – Riebkes, Jessica L., Rebecca S. Barak, and Andrea T. Kramer. “Evaluating seed viability in prairie forbs: a test of three methods.” Native Plants Journal 16.2 (2015): 96-106.

[6] – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928). pp.151. Retrieved 04JUN2022.

[7] – “Conservation Assessment For Eryngium Root Borer (Papaipema eryngii)“. USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region. 2003. Accessed 21JUL2022.

[8] – Molano‐Flores, Brenda. “Insect herbivory of ovules and seeds in native and restored prairies.” Restoration Ecology 17.2 (2009): 187-191.

[9] – ASPCA. “Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List – Dogs”. Accessed 21JUL2022. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/dogs-plant-list

[10] – Oliver, P. “100 easy-to-grow native plants: For American gardens in temperate zones.” (1999): 99-100.

[11] – Gibson, Dale L., and Mary E. Carrington. “Road salt germination inhibition of native plants used in roadside plantings. Diss. Governors State University, 2002.

[12] – Price III, Joseph A. “An in vitro evaluation of the Native American ethnomedicinal plant Eryngium yuccifolium as a treatment for snakebite envenomation.” Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology 5.3 (2016): 219.

[13] – Moerman, Daniel E. Native American medicinal plants: an ethnobotanical dictionary. pp.198, Timber Press, 2009.

[14] – North American Ethnobotany Database. “Eryngium yuccifolium“. Accessed 21JUL2022.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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