Tom's Blog

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) is a "remarkable species, unlike any other in our area" (Cochrane and Iltis). A quick glance would not suggest that this plant is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), since neither its flowers nor leaves resemble any other members of this family (which includes Queen Anne's lace, wild parsnip, golden Alexanders, etc. etc.). The flowers give off a carrot-like odor.

It has spiny, fleshy leaves, like a yucca plant of the desert, hence its species name. The common name stems from the fact that Native Americans used its root as a cure for rattlesnake bites. I have seen no evidence that this cure works.

Although found throughout most of eastern U.S., it is found in Wisconsin only the southern tier of counties, where it grows in dry-mesic to wet-mesic prairies.

At Pleasant Valley Conservancy it is present only in our planted prairies, where it is a minor but interesting member of the flora. In the first few years after planting, it was not common but is now more widespread, due to the fact that it self-seeds well.

According to the experience at the U.W. Madison Arboretum (as documented by Theodore Sperry), rattlesnake master is one of those species that not only grow well in initial plantings but because of efficient self seeding spread widely over the planted prairie. Other species (New Jersey tea, for instance) remained in its original planted location for many years.


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