How to Grow and Care for Rattlesnake Plant

rattlesnake plant

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Rattlesnake plant (Goeppertia insignis) is a tropical evergreen perennial native to Brazil, commonly grown as an indoor houseplant. It can be tricky to nurture, but if you give it the care it needs, you will be rewarded with an impressive display from the distinctive foliage with a wavy pattern along the edges and variegated with shades of greens. Even the undersides of the foliage are eye-catching with their beautiful purplish-red tones.

In its native habitat, rattlesnake plant produces small yellow flowers in late spring. But as a houseplant, it is grown exclusively for its long, elegant, ornamental foliage, as it rarely blooms indoors. Plants typically grow to about 20 inches tall when grown as houseplants. Rattlesnake plant grows at a moderate rate indoors but will slow or stop growing if the plant is in unfavorable conditions.

Common Name Rattlesnake plant, prayer plant, rattlesnake calathea
Botanical Name Goeppertia insignis, formerly Calathea lancifolia
Family Marantaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 9–20 in. tall, 9–18 in. wide
Sun Exposure Partial
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones 11b-12b (USDA)
Native Area South America

Rattlesnake Plant Care

Rattlesnake plants are not generally considered the best option for a beginner's houseplant collection. They have very particular heat, light, and moisture requirements. However, it can be worth the extra effort when you see the beautiful ornamental leaves the plant produces.

Because this plant has large leaves, you may be tempted to use commercial leaf shine to give the foliage an extra boost. This can cause browning of the tips of the leaves, so you should stick with a simple damp cloth to remove any dust or debris instead.

Although this plant grows in shaded outdoor landscapes in Hawaii and some southern parts of California and Florida, it is most commonly kept as a houseplant or in greenhouses or terrariums. This tropical native needs a lot of heat and humidity to thrive.

closeup of rattlesnake

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

overhead view of rattlesnake plant

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Light

Filtered light is the best option. If you want to place your rattlesnake plant in a window, select one that doesn't have intense afternoon sun streaming through it, or diffuse the light with drapes. A bright spot in a well-lit room works well.

Soil

Choose a well-draining soil. Although these plants can't handle standing water, they like to be kept moist. A light sandy soil or a potting mix of two parts peat moss and one part perlite works well. Rattlesnake plant prefers slightly acidic or neutral pH levels, but alkaline soils should be avoided.

Water

Over the summer, when your rattlesnake plant experiences the most growth, it needs to be watered frequently to keep the soil or potting mix moist. During the winter season, allow the top layer of soil to dry out before watering again.

Rattlesnake plants don't tolerate waterlogged conditions; if the leaves start to turn yellow, you may be overwatering. Conversely, if the leaves begin to curl unattractively they aren't receiving enough water.

Frequent small waterings are required rather than deep irrigation. Water the plant until it just starts to trickle out of drainage holes (do not water so much that it is streaming out of the bottom). Do not let the plant sit in the excess water. Pour the excess water out and do not pour it back into the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Ideal temperatures for this plant are around 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If exposed to prolonged temperatures below this, the leaves can wilt and brown, and will eventually die off.

Cold, dry air, poor ventilation, drafts, and sudden temperature changes are all very harmful. Keep your rattlesnake plant away from air conditioning units and heating systems to avoid exposing it to undesired dry air.

To create the humid environment the plant favors, stand your potted plant on a tray with pebbles. The water that drains through the pot will remain there and help create the moist conditions that it likes. You can also regularly mist your plant or bring it into the bathroom when showering. Of course, a humidifier is a good investment if you are an avid collector of tropical houseplants.

Fertilizer

Feed your rattlesnake plant every month during the spring and summer growing season. Use a balanced liquid fertilizer to encourage healthy foliage development. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

Types of Rattlesnake Plant

There are cultivars of G. insignis, but there are other species of Goeppertia houseplants with similar care needs:

  • Goeppertia majestica is a larger 3-foot plant with wider egg-shaped leaves, green with thin stripes of color.
  • Goeppertia makoyana (cathedral windows, peacock plant) is a 40-inch-tall plant with wide showy leaves resembling a peacock's tail.
  • Goeppertia micans (prayer plant) is a 12- to 16-inch tall plant with leaves that fold together at night.
  • Goeppertia zebrina (zebra plant) is a 3-foot-tall plant with light green leaves striped with darker green.

Pruning

The only pruning required is to remove dead or drying leaves.

Propagating Rattlesnake Plant

These plants are easy to propagate by division once they are well established, but propagation by seed is extremely difficult. You can undertake the process of dividing in the spring when you are planning to repot the plant.

  1. Water your plant the day before you plan to divide and repot. This will lessen the amount of stress on the plant.
  2. Choose a pot that's large enough for the new root ball you will create when dividing the plant. A plastic, metal, or glazed ceramic pot with drainage holes is best since your rattlesnake plant requires a moist environment.
  3. Fill the pot about 1/3 of the way with potting soil with some perlite mixed in.
  4. Place the potted plant on its side so you can easily slide the root ball out of the container.
  5. Gently brush soil from the roots and begin to carefully tease the roots apart with your fingers. Slowly separate the roots where they seem to naturally want to come apart, but don't force any roots to break apart. Trim off any damaged or diseased parts of the root with sterile, sharp gardening scissors.
  6. Place the divided root ball into its new container and backfill with soil, using some of the soil from the original pot to reduce the plant's stress.
  7. Water the newly potted plant until water drains from the bottom of the container.
  8. Though optional, you can mimic a greenhouse effect by placing a clear plastic bag loosely over the plant and container until you see that it's growing. Then you can remove the plastic and care for it normally.

Division is a good way to keep plants healthy when they become root-bound and active growth slows down.

Common Pests

The thick leaves of your rattlesnake plant may entice pests. Look underneath leaves for the usual suspects, including aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. Treat the problem quickly with gentle insecticidal soap, neem oil, or simply wash the insects off the leaves with a soft cloth dipped in soapy water.

Common Problems With Rattlesnake Plants

The leaves and stems of your rattlesnake plant will let you know if there's a problem. Most of the time it's due to a watering issue. But here are common issues that you can try to amend for a healthier plant.

Leaf Color or Pattern Fading

A key consideration for any rattlesnake plant is proper lighting. If it gets too much direct sunlight, green spots may appear on the leaves; too little light and the vibrant spotted markings may begin to fade.

Limp or Rotting Stems

There are two possibilities for problematic stems: overwatering or drafts. Giving your plant too much water when the temperature drops can cause the stems to become limp, and sitting in water can cause the roots to rot, which can kill the plant. Try moving the plant to a warmer space with no extreme temperature fluctuations to see how the plant fares.

Leaf Edges Turning Brown

Brown leaf edges signal that the plant needs more humidity in its environment. In addition to brown leaf tips, overly dry air can result in the foliage curling up. Take steps to add humidity to the area where the plant lives.

FAQ
  • What helps a rattlesnake plant thrive?

    Give this plant the humidity, warmth, and filtered sunlight it requires and the bold markings on the rattlesnake plants foliage are sure to impress any visitors. It is a worthy addition to any tropical houseplant collection and looks great as a stand-alone specimen too.

  • Can a rattlesnake plant be pruned?

    Pruning is usually not necessary. Use sterilized shears to snip off an unwanted leaf near the stem and discard it.

  • Why do rattlesnake plants close up at night?

    The leaves of some rattlesnake houseplants tend to point upward at night and drop back down during daylight, which is why they are sometimes called rattlesnake prayer plants. This not-so-subtle movement is normal for this type of plant as a way to manage its light and water resources.

  • Are rattlesnake plants and prayer plants the same?

    Rattlesnake plants (Goeppertia insignis) differ from prayer plants (Maranta spp.) though they are both parts of the same Marantaceae family and have brightly patterned leaves with observable movement at night. Rattlesnake plants grow upright while prayer plants can dangle from a hanging pot, and have different shaped leaves.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Goeppertia insignis. NC State University Extension Plant Finder