A garden is like a game of Chutes and Ladders. A plant that shines in April soon falls down the chute and is nothing but limp yellow leaves by June. Its neighbor, at the top of its game in June, by September has turned crispy and shriveled. Few plants can claim the top of the ladder for more than one season. Rattlesnake master, a North American wildflower, does it with ease. This odd-looking prairie plant sends up sharp, yuccalike leaves in spring and stalks topped with white-green thistle-shaped heads in midsummer. The flowers turn brown in fall, then take on snowy hats in winter to stand guard over the sleeping garden.
Common name: Rattlesnake master, button snakeroot
Botanical name: Eryngium yuccifolium
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 4 to 5 feet
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Average, well drained
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or by division
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to powdery mildew and root rot.
• Snails and slugs may be a problem.
• In fall, leave seed heads on the plant for winter interest.
• Grow with grasses or other wildflowers, like black-eyed Susan, aster, and blazing star. Or choose a billowy companion plant, like boltonia or baby’s breath, to contrast with rattlesnake master’s rigid, upright form.
• Highlight the white thistlelike flowers by planting them in front of evergreens or another dark background.
• Will self-seed under the right conditions.
All in the family
• In the Eryngium genus, there are about 230 species. Several species, known as sea hollies, are grown in gardens.
• Other familiar members of the Apiaceae family are parsley, carrot, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsnip, and celery. There are more than 3,000 species in this family (also known as Umbelliferae).
Where to buy
• Avant Gardens, Dartmouth, MA, 508-998-8819, www.avantgardensne.com.
• Big Dipper Farm, Black Diamond, WA, 360-886-8133, www.bigdipperfarm.com.
• Michigan Wildflower Farm, Portland, MI, 517-647-6010, www.michiganwildflowerfarm.com. (Seeds only)
(Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)