A Wetland Plant With A Bite!

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) is a striking, herbaceous perennial featuring numerous round heads of tiny white flowers atop a solitary, (mostly) leafless stem. Flowers are borne en masse in late spring/early summer and hum with the activity of numerous bee, wasp and fly species. The miniature flowers produce copious nectar and also attract beetles, butterflies, and a host of other insect visitors. The stiff, bluish-green, basal leaves superficially resemble a Yucca; hence, the name “yuccifolium”, and the common name refers to a misguided belief that the species could cure rattlesnake bites (disclaimer: it cannot.).

Rattlesnake master occurs throughout the Eastern United States, from Minnesota south to Texas and east to Florida. The species can be found in a variety of habitats, including prairies, savannas, flatwoods, open woodlands and even the occasional roadside ditch.

Occurring over such a large geographic extent, some taxonomists believe the species actually constitutes two botanical varieties: a predominantly northern form (i.e., Eryngium yuccifolium var. yuccifolium) and a southern form restricted to the coastal plain of the Southeastern U.S. (i.e., Eryngium yuccifolium var. synchaetum). For the discerning plant enthusiast, plants at Bok Tower Gardens represent to the latter, but the distinction is ornamentally insignificant.

Rattlesnake master makes a remarkably adaptable, pest-free garden plant. Plants need full sun and prefer well-drained soils, but will tolerate sand or clay, as well as acidic or alkaline conditions. In Florida, and owing to our intense sun and sandy soils, plants may benefit from a moister (not wet) location, but are drought tolerant and will excel in most garden locations. Plants reach 3-4 feet at maturity and possess a conspicuously bold architecture. Combined with the bluish-green foliage, rattlesnake master makes for an interesting accent plant or addition to a perennial border. Plants also thrive in pollinator or wildlife gardens and contrast nicely in prairies and meadows with native grasses and summer-blooming asters.

Blog was written by Patrick Lynch, Plant Records Curator and photographed by Cassidy Jones, Social Media Coordinator.