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 July Flora Spotlight:
Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master 
Eryngium yuccifolium

Resembling something out of the Southwestern United States in name and appearance, Rattlesnake Master has an arid, heated look about it. Perhaps it's the yucca-like foliage, resembling its desert counterparts. Or perhaps it's the unusual spherical, thistle-like greenish-white flower heads.

No matter what the reason, it always comes down to one simple fact; this is quite a striking plant. Ideal for gardens as specimens or in small groups, this native species will add texture and color to almost any perennial border. There are few pest or disease problems with Rattlesnake Master. It is an excellent plant for difficult soils and is extremely drought resistant. As a native of the prairie, Eryngium yuccifolium is well-adapted to drought and excess sun. This plant serves as a host for Swallowtail butterfly larvae and provides nectar for many pollinators. The flower heads turn a bronzy color in winter and provide not only winter interest, but a source of food for birds. And don't worry it doesn't attract rattlesnakes! The name is derived from an old belief that the roots could be used to heal rattlesnake bites.

Although there is currently no scientific evidence to support claims of medicinal properties by Native Americans, Rattlesnake Master was a popular herb in the 18th and 19th centuries. James Adair, an Indian trader, was one of the first to document medicinal uses of Rattlesnake Master. He recounted tales in which Indians chewed the root, blew it on their hands, and then handled rattlesnakes without any conscience. Despite these stories, this use was not widespread the root was more often used in bitter teas as an antidote for various maladies. These included venereal disease, snakebites, impotence, expelling worms, and to induce vomiting.

Three years ago when the Gardens added the parking lot extension, Jay Kranyik the Garden Manager, planted Rattlesnake Master for its drought resistance. The plants have preformed remarkably well without the benefit of irrigation. For other great plants for drought, check out the plantings adjacent to the parking lot.

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