Friday, July 15, 2011

Rattlesnake Master

Click to enlarge
It is always exciting to find a new species on Bull Creek.  We just found the first Rattlesnake Master on our place.  You have to love a name like that.

The ball at the top of the stalk is made up of lots of tiny white flowers surrounded by sharp bracts (specialized leaves below the flower heads).  The leaves are very distinctive with long parallel veins and long thin teeth which are curved like a rattlesnakes fangs.

Leaves with long hair-like teeth
Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) almost resembles a yucca but it is actually a member of the carrot family.  It is normally a tallgrass prairie species, although ours was in the  woods along a north facing trail.  This location may be related to the fact that most of the hills like ours were "barrens" several hundred years ago.  Schoolcraft traveling through in 1818 consistently described the hills as open grasslands with only a few scattered trees.

According to Illinoiswildflowers, Native Americans used the dried seedheads as rattles.  It received its name from the pioneers who claimed the roots were an effective snakebite antidote.  In addition to a garden plant, it is promoted for sale in websites like
"Wear RATTLESNAKE MASTER, Red Pepper, and Salt in your Shoes, and you can walk with impunity where people have laid down crossing powders and where poisonous Snakes dwell. A living RATTLESNAKE MASTER plant near your front door -- especially the strong-smelling Eryngium foetidum -- is said to keep snakes away."
"We make no representations for RATTLESNAKE MASTER, and sell as a Curio only."
Timber Rattlesnake- Click to Enlarge
Try telling that to this guy we found by our garage door last week!  See him laughing?  Me neither.


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  2. For those confused by the comments of the MN resident humorist above, you need to know Buck - or maybe not. For those looking for the facts, you might want to read about White Snake Root.

    This is a native plant and eating it causes a poisoning called Milk Sickness. It has some historical significance. According to Wikipedia and many other sources:
    "During the early 19th century, when large numbers of European Americans from the East, who were unfamiliar with snakeroot, began settling in the plant's habitat of the Midwest and Upper South, many thousands were killed by milk sickness. Notably, milk sickness was the cause of death in 1818 of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, mother of Abraham Lincoln."

  3. I am sorry but it was the Native Americans who found out it was a Rattlesnake venom antidote.Not to sound rude or anything but it is true.

    1. I agree the Native Americans used it as an antidote. There is no scientific studies to show that it has any effect. As I said in the article above, "it received its name" from pioneers, as it is unlikely that Native Americans languages used the word rattlesnake.

  4. Did you know that the majority of people who are bitten by venomous snakes are either trying to kill them or handle them? Snakes are an incredibly important part of the ecosystem and you don't need a magic potion to keep from being bitten, just use a little knowledge of snakes. Keep your property clear of the rubbish that attracts rodents and offers snakes hiding places. If you see one, leave it alone and it will slither off on its way. Never attempt to kill a snake. Although they are very shy and want only to scurry off, they can and will defend themselves if cornered. Teaching children that's it's ok to attack a venomous snake is likely get them bitten. If you believe yourself or loved ones are in danger, call a reptile re-locator.

    1. I would echo the thoughts above in general, but unfortunately as we humans move further into nature, our close contacts become inevitable.
      In the case above the rattlesnake was entering a gravel-floored garage with a tractor, ATVs and a shop with tools. Short of tearing down the building and moving, there is no way to make the area safe. The year before my wife encountered a timber rattlesnake stretched out below the patio door like a hose.

      When I can, I capture and transport venomous species but in these cases, letting it escape would only leave open the possibility of it returning at night. A reptile re-locator is a nice theory but they don't exist and I there was one, it would be hard to convince the snake to stay there for a few days or to return at an appointed time. Safety is job one.

      We would never disturb a snake of any species in the wild.