Description & Overview

If you have ever been walking through a Wisconsin prairie and seen a patch of Rattlesnake Master then you know what I mean when I say this plant is a bit of an oddball. It looks like nothing else in our landscape and more like something you would find in the desert Southwest. The foliage is reminiscent of the Yucca plant with fibrous, toothed leaves sometimes up to 30 inches long. The flowers grow multiple round, compact inflorescences on a long stalk. Frankly, they look a bit like golf balls or funny-lookin’ thistles. This unique, native perennial is sure to add excitement and interest to any landscape bed or garden. But be ready for people not to believe you when you say it’s native!

May also be known as Button Snakeroot. Yuccaleaf Eryngo, and Button Ryngo.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 3-4 feet

Mature Spread: 1-2 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Clumping, Erect

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Sandy, Well-drained

Flower: White

Bloom Period: Mid-Summer

Foliage: Gray Green

Fall Color: N/A

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Seed Pod

Suggested Uses

Rattlesnake Master is drought resistant due to a long taproot but can also thrive in moist soil. Be sure the planting location is well-drained as it does hit its limit when planted in an area with standing water. Plant this puppy in full sun as it tends to get lanky in part shade, leading to drooping flower stalks.

This plant will certainly add interest to any native garden and will do its part to attract pollinators to any prairie restoration project. This hardy plant will look right at home in a rock garden and will certainly make a statement as an accent or specimen in a flower garden.

If you have ever been walking through a Wisconsin prairie and seen a patch of Rattlesnake Master then you know what I mean when I say this plant is a …

Wildlife Value

Rattlesnake Master attracts many pollinators. Monarchs, skippers, crescents, sulphurs, Weed Field sables, hairstreaks, viceroys, plant bugs, bees, wasps, and flies are attracted to the nectar, while Soldier beetles eat the pollen. The caterpillars of yet another moth, (Coleotechnites eryngiella) feed on the seeds.

Specifically, the bees, wasps, and other allies that visit include Dark Paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus), Great Golden Differ wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus), Mason wasps (Ancistrocerus spp.), Thread-waisted wasps (Prionyx spp.), Great Black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus), Beetle wasps (Cerceris spp.), Hump-backed Beewolf (Philanthus gibbosus), Grass-carrying wasps (Isodontia spp.), Carrot wasps (Gasteruption spp.), and Five-banded Thynnid wasps (Myzinum quinquecinctum). Yellow-faced bees (Hyaleus spp.), Bumble bees (Bombus spp.), Soldier bees (Odontomyia spp.), Eastern Carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.), Sweat bees (Halictid spp.), and Wedge-shaped beetles (Macrosiagon spp.), Red-shouldered Pine beetles (Stictoleptura canadensis) and Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus spp.) also visit. All-important pollinators!

Rattlesnake Master Stem Borer (Papaipema eryngii) is an endangered specialist moth that uses Rattlesnake Master as its only host. Eggs are laid near the roots and hatch in May, the larvae wriggling underground toward the roots. There they live and feed on the roots until late August when they finally pupate. They emerge in the fall as moths, laying eggs (sometimes up to 200 in one go!) that will overwinter, and the cycle begins again. This moth is restricted to the central United States and is only found in areas with Rattlesnake Master populations large enough to support the larvae. An estimated 100-1,000 individual plants are required for them to thrive. Rattlesnake Master is commonly found in mature, undisturbed prairies. While there are likely other factors contributing to the borer’s decline, the loss of these prairies to development is likely the main cause.

In addition, Rattlesnake Master is a host plant to the Flower Feeding Moth (Coleotechnites eryngiella) and Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) though it must be stated that it seems to prioritize other species from the carrot family.

Mammals (including deer!) tend to avoid the foliage.

Maintenance Tips

Avoid transplanting as this will damage the taproot and it will likely not survive.

Do not fertilize. This may result in too-fast growth, creating a floppy flower stalk.

If you have ever been walking through a Wisconsin prairie and seen a patch of Rattlesnake Master then you know what I mean when I say this plant is a …

Pests/Problems

In some cases, Rattlesnake Master can grow large enough that the flower stalks flop over. To help prevent this, plant it in full sun and surround it with native grasses as the competition may keep it from growing too tall.

No foliar diseases or pests.

Leaf Lore

The genus name Eryngium comes from the Greek name for a plant that grew there. Or it is a Greek reference for the spiny features of plants in this genus. The specific epithet yuccifolium refers to the leaves that look like Yucca.

Rattlesnake Master got its common name from early settlers when they observed Native Americans using the plant sap as a treatment and preventative to rattlesnake bites. It should be noted that Rattlesnake Master is not a proven antidote for rattlesnake venom.

Rattlesnake Master is a part of the carrot family (Apiaceae), another aspect of this plant that makes it stand out, as it is difficult to find the visual similarity between this, and, say, parsley, although, when the leaves are crushed, they do emit an Apiaceae-like scent.

The roots and shoots can be cooked and eaten. The dried seed heads were used as rattles by Native Americans. The fibrous leaves are still used by Native Americans and modern survivalists to make cordage with endless uses, including a few sandals, baskets, and rope.

Companion Plants

Other plants that naturally occur with Rattlesnake Master in Wisconsin prairies include Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Prairie Dropseed, Prairie Dock, Compass Plant, Leadplant, Coneflowers, Stiff Coreopsis, and Wild Bergamot.

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Written by Julia Feltes