Rattlesnake Master Plant (Eryngium yuccifolium) Quick Facts
Nectar plant to Monarchs and many other butterflies
Native to much of the South and Midwest in US
Hardy in USDA zones 4-9
Prefers well drained, moist to medium dry soil
Can grow in poor soil
Balls of white/green flowers bloom in summer
3-4 feet tall
Space plants 18-24 inches apart
Low maintenance and may self-seed
At least a month. Frequently two, and all summer long is not unheard of! This is how long you can expect Rattlesnake Master blossoms to look good and produce nectar for your pollinators. This unusual perennial with its exotic looks and easy-care ways attracts a diverse array of pollinators—long- and short-tongued bees, moths, skippers, and oh my, the butterflies! Monarchs, viceroys, buckeyes, sulphurs, crescents, hairstreaks, and swallowtails all visit the Rattlesnake Master for a nip of nectar, and the Black Swallowtail caterpillar may use it as a host plant.
You might think of the Rattlesnake Master plant as “nectar insurance” for your pollinators. It’s like a good neighbor, providing long-lived, reliable nectar that is appealing to a multitude of flying garden visitors.
Tower of Flowers
A native of the tall grass prairies, this accent plant has a sturdy central stem that rises to a height of 2-5 feet from a leafy rosette that hugs the ground. The stem branches very near the top, and anywhere between 3 and 20 thistle-like floral globes grace the top of the plant. Whether freshly cut or dried, the Rattlesnake Master enhances any flower arrangement.
These white flower balls are lightly tinged with green and measure about an inch across. The spheres are made of 100 or so tiny individual blooms, each of which perfumes the breeze with a light, sweet scent reminiscent of honey. A cultivated Rattlesnake Master usually blooms in its second year, but wild specimens frequently delay flowers until year three. This tall plant appreciates other lofty neighbors—try it with Meadow Blazing Star and Purple Coneflower to create an accent area that pollinators will find easy to discover and hard to resist!
A Plant of Contradictions
Although the sword-shaped leaves that sport soft spikes on the edges are very similar to those on a yucca plant, the Rattlesnake Master is actually a member of the carrot family. The bluish-green leaves’ soft spikes are echoed in the soft prickles extending from the blossoms. Even though they’re not sharp, those spikes are believed to be at least part of the reason deer and rabbits tend to hop on by without snacking.
The Rattlesnake Master thrives in fairly moist conditions, but the soil must be well-draining. Full sun to partial shade is ideal, and established plants can tolerate short periods of drought. The plant is considered easy-care—no significant disease or insect problems. There are, however, two guidelines to keep in mind. First, add no fertilizer. This tends to make the tall stems droop. Keep those stalks erect with poor soil! Second, place the Rattlesnake Master where you’d like for it to remain. Its robust tap root means transplanting is rarely successful.
That Name Though!
No, it doesn’t attract rattlesnakes, and it certainly doesn’t boss them around! There are several theories as to how the Rattlesnake Master got its name:
*Native Americans may have ground the roots to use as a poultice for snakebites.
*John Adair, a North American pioneer of the early 1800’s, reported that Native Americans would rub the plant’s sap on their bodies before snake handling ceremonies.
*After flowering, the plant produces a seed capsule that rattles, and this was sometimes given as a toy to Native American babies. Could we think of this plant as the “Rattleshake” Master??
No matter what you call it, the Rattlesnake Master is a lovely, long-lasting nectar source that is worthy of a spot in your garden. And when you order from Joyful Butterfly, you can be sure it is absolutely safe for you and all your pollinators!