I decided to blog today on a tough-as-nails perennial plant for the benefit of those fellow gardeners who also garden in a hotter-than-heck semi-arid environment like Kansas. For those of you in dry, rattlesnake-friendly country, Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) is a problem-free, drought-resistant addition to the garden. Be aware, however, that despite the common name of this plant, its roots do not heal rattlesnake bites as legend suggests. I'm a little disappointed about that, myself, because I'd sure like to have a cure available some day when I run across confirmation that rattlesnakes about in my garden as thickly as the books say they should.
Rattlesnake Master (also called Button Snakeroot or Button Eryngo) is a Zone 4 hardy plant that, once planted, never needs to be cared for again. It is listed as a native Kansas wildflower, but I've never seen it growing wild in my immediate vicinity. I can't remember where I first learned of it, but I do remember that after reading about it, I drove as quickly as possible to my local plant pusher...er...uh....nursery, to ask if they knew where I could get a specimen. As luck would have it, they had two potted specimens that a client had ordered and then not picked up; two beaten up, neglected plants that didn't appear as if they would survive the first night out of the pot.
But, survive they did and now every year they return to my garden and provide a little novelty to my August border. The foliage is silver-gray, and the plant is upright and stiff, so it stands out well from surrounding darker green foliage and provides good foliage contrast if you place it right. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the honey-scented flowers and the plant itself is a host plant for Swallowtail butterflies. It grows about 5 foot tall every year, flowers consistently in late July, and doesn't seem to spread itself around indiscriminately. Don't listen to everything you read about this plant because some sources are flat out wrong. I read on Dave'sGarden.com, for instance, that Rattlesnake Master requires consistently moist soil and that I shouldn't let it dry out between waterings. In reality, I've never given this plant extra water and in our current drought period, the soil around this plant has barely had a molecule of dihydrogen monooxide to spare for a month. I've also read that handling the plant causes skin irritation, but that particular side effect has only happened to me when I haven't been careful of the spiky leaves.
This member of the carrot family should grow well in the garden of those who like its bluer cousins, the Sea Holly's such as 'Big Blue' (Eryngium zabelli). Both types of Eryngium grow in my garden, but the white flowers of Rattlesnake Master stand out more vividly in the August garden.