Rattlesnake master is a warm-season perennial of the parsley family that has thick prickly leaves resembling yucca. Eryngium is Greek for “prickly plant” and yuccifolium is Greek for “yucca leaves.” The leaf base of the plant clasps a single stem where white Flower heads are set on peduncles at the tip of the stem. Each spherical flower head is from 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter and is made up of many small flowers. Whitish bracts extend from the flowers, which gives the flower a rough, prickly feel. The flowers have a wonderful honey like aroma and bloom all the way from June to September.
The name Rattlesnake Master eludes to all kinds of specialized medical uses and indeed it was once considered a potent healing plant. The plant’s sap was said to work as a preventative to snakebite and used by some Native American nations during ceremonial handling of rattlesnakes. The sap and roots were also used to treat a wide variety of sicknesses and used as a diuretic. Native Americans also found purpose in the fibrous leaves for weaving.
In the wild as well as the garden, Rattlesnake Master is a favorite of native insects. Monarch butterflies, skippers, and other butterflies visit the flowers regularly. Soldier Beetles also visit the flowers as do many kinds bees, wasps, and flies. One specialized insect, the Rattlesnake Master Stem-borer (Papaipema eryngii) is dependent on rattlesnake master to complete its lifecycle. This moth’s caterpillars will burrow in the stems and roots of this plant. Another dependent insect is the larva of a seed-eating moth (Coleotechnites eryngiella) that burrows through the flower heads and munch on the seeds. Caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) also feed on the leaves.