How to Grow Rattlesnake Plants

rattlesnake plant

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Rattlesnake Plants (Calathea lancifolia) aren't the easiest houseplants to nurture, but, if you give them them the care they need, you will be rewarded with an impressive display from their foliage.

This tropical calathea species is native to the rainforests of Brazil and gets its common name from the distinctive decorative markings that are displayed on its leaves.

The plant can grow up to 30 inches tall, and the large leaves have a variegated pattern with various shades of greens and a wavy pattern along their edges. Even the undersides of the foliage are eye-catching with their beautiful purplish-red tones.

In its native region, the rattlesnake plant produces small yellow flowers in the late spring. As a houseplant, you will be growing this plant for its impressively ornamental, long, and elegant foliage as it rarely blooms indoor.

Although this plant is often seen growing 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 lots of heat and humidity to thrive.

If you can give this plant the humidity, warmth and filtered sunlight it requires, 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.

Botanical Name Calathea lancifolia
Common Name Rattlesnake Plants
Plant Type Perennial, Evergreen
Mature Size Up to 30 in. tall
Sun Exposure Partial Shade
Soil Type Well-drained, moist
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Bloom Time Late spring
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones 11-12, USA
Native Area Brazil
Toxicity Non-toxic
closeup of rattlesnake

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

overhead view of rattlesnake plant

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Plant Care

Rattlesnake plants are not generally considered the best option to add to a beginners houseplant collection. They have very particular requirements in terms of heat, light and moisture. However, the beautiful ornamental leaves the plant produces do make it worth the extra effort.

Because this plant has large leaves, you may be tempted to use 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.

Light

A key consideration for any calathea plant is proper lighting, and the rattlesnake is no exception. If it gets too much direct sunlight, the vibrant spotted markings will begin to fade.

Filtered light is the best option. If you want to have 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 conservatory or a well-lit room away from the direct light in a window can work well too.

Soil

When it comes to soil, it needs to be one that is well-drained. Although these plants can't handle standing water, they do still like to be kept moist. A light sandy soil or a potting mix of one part perlite and two parts peat could work well. They also respond well to slightly acidic or neutral pH levels - alkaline soils should be avoided.

Water

Over the summer period, when your rattlesnake plant experiences the most growth, they will need to be watered frequently. Keeping the soil or potting mix moist is important.

Rattlesnake plants don't tolerate waterlogged conditions, though, and, if the leaves start to turn yellow, this could be a sign that you are overwatering. Conversely, the leaves can begin to curl unattractively when they don't receive enough water. Frequent small watering is required rather than deep irrigation.

During the winter season, allow the top layer of soil to dry out before watering again. As the temperatures drop, if you give your plant too much water it can cause the plant stems to become limp and this can kill off the plant eventually.

Temperature and Humidity

Where you situate your rattlesnake plant can make a huge difference in terms of its growth and health. Cold, dry air, poor ventilation, drafts, and sudden changes in temperatures are all very harmful.

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

Try to keep your rattlesnake plant away from air conditioning units and heating systems to avoid exposing it to undesired dry air. As well as causing brown leaf tips, overly dry air can result in the foliage curling up.

If you are concerned about creating an environment that is humid enough, you can stand your pot on a tray with pebbles. The water that drains through the pot will remain there and help to create the moist conditions that they like. You can also regularly mist your plant or bring them into the bathroom whenever you are showering. Of course, a humidifier is a good investment if you are an avid tropical houseplant collector.

Fertilizer

Your rattlesnake plant will appreciate being fed every month during the spring and summer growing season. Using a balanced liquid fertilizer encourages impressive and healthy foliage development. A weak dose of a specialized foliage variety with a decent amount of nitrogen works well for plants with lots of leaves.

Propagating Rattlesnake Plants

These plants are easy to propagate by division once they are well established. You can undertake the process at the time when it looks as though your rattlesnake plant has grown significantly and could do with being repotted anyway.