I first heard of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) in William K. Stevens' book “Miracle Under the Oaks: The Revival of Nature in America.” Ever since then I have been enamored by this species. Who could blame me? Such a common name deserves a deeper inquiry. It would take a few years before I would be able to see an actual tall grass prairie and lay eyes on this wonderful, albeit strange member of the carrot family.
Rattlesnake master gets its common name from the erroneous belief that the roots of this plant could be used to cure rattlesnake bites. I don't know about you but I certainly will not be chancing it. Its specific epithet "yuccifolium" comes from the resemblance its leaves have to that of Yucca. Unlike most carrots, which have dissected, lacy foliage, the leaves of rattlesnake master are strap-like and pointed with teeth running up the margins.
The clustered flowers exhibit protandry meaning the anthers mature and senesce before the pistils become receptive. This reduces the chances of self-fertilization, which increases the amount of genetic variation in a population. Being a member of the carrot family, rattlesnake master develops a very deep taproot making it a difficult species to transplant. Despite this fact, it grows readily from seed making it an excellent addition to a native prairie planting. What's more, the caterpillars of the Eryngium root borer moth (Papaipema eryngii) live solely off the roots of rattlesnake master. Without this plant, the moths could not survive.
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