The rattlesnake plant (Calathea lancifolia) is as decorative and flashy as you’d expect of something native to Brazil.
But how difficult is rattlesnake plant care? It’s reasonably high-maintenance plant, and not generally recommended for first-time plant owners, but if you’re up for the challenge, the beautiful aesthetics of this plant are well worth it.
The rattlesnake plant is an evergreen perennial with leaves that are green on the top, burgundy on the underside, and have a striking pattern. They bloom in their native environment of the Brazilian rainforest, but it’s incredibly uncommon for them to flower indoors – you’re more likely to be keeping this plant for its beautiful and unusual foliage.
Because this plant has very specific needs when it comes to temperature, humidity, pH levels, environment and watering, it’s not an easy specimen to start your houseplant journey with – but if you’re a bit of a green thumb and up for the challenge, here’s everything you need to know about rattlesnake plant care.
The rattlesnake plant prefers bright, filtered light, and will do well indoors in a sunny room, but kept out of direct beams of sunlight. If you want to keep it near a window, make sure there’s some sort of gauzy curtain or blind to filter the light adequately.
These plants come from the rainforests of Brazil, and accordingly, they want a tropical climate – but they’re quite specific about it. 60-75oF (15-24oC) is the sweet spot, and it’s best to attempt adding this plant to your household only if you can ensure it will be in a room that’s approximately this temperature year-round.
If it’s exposed to temperatures lower than 60 degrees for any prolonged period, it’s likely to die off. A sign it may be too cold is if the leaves begin to turn brown. Drafts, dry air and temperature changes can also cause this – keep it away from any air-conditioned rooms, drafty windows and heating sources.
This plant wants to be moist, but not soggy. During the growing period, the plant will need to be watered regularly to maintain the right level of moisture, but it doesn’t want to be waterlogged.
Frequent, small amounts of water are best for this plant. Don’t soak it completely and then leave it for a long while; water until you start to see a tiny bit of water trickle from the drainage holes, then stop.
During the winter months, let the soil dry out before watering. If the leaves start to turn yellow, this could be a sign of overwatering. Under-watering can cause the leaves to curl.
It’s best to water your rattlesnake plant with either rainwater or distilled water rather than tap water.
Rattlesnake plants thrive in a moderate humidity environment of at least 50%. If your home is on the drier side, you could mist the leaves regularly or place the plant on a pebble tray filled with water.
Getting the watering and humidity correct are the keys to successful rattlesnake plant care. Get these right and you’re likely have a beautiful looking plant.
These plants like to be kept moist but require soil that allows for easy drainage – they can’t handle being soggy. Use a potting mix that incorporates perlite and peat moss, or a sandy soil.
Ensure you avoid alkaline soils – slightly acidic or neutral pH levels are best for rattlesnake plants.
Every two years, you should repot your rattlesnake plant. You can either rehome it in the next sized pot up, or split the roots to propagate it, making the original plant smaller. Give it fresh soil and adequate drainage.
‘Transplant shock’ is a common issue when replanting Calatheas. To avoid this, ensure you water the plant thoroughly about 24 hours before repotting.
Rattlesnake plants can be propagated from cuttings. You’ll need to cut off a head that has at least two leaves attached, and plant it up in a soil with the correct pH level and drainage (as mentioned in the ‘soil requirements’ section, above). Use a plastic bag over the new plant until it’s properly rooted.
You can also propagate these plants by division when you’re repotting. When you take the plant out of the soil, shake the soil from the roots, separate the stems out, and cut a stem with at least two roots running off of it. You can then plant them up in different pots.
Pests & problems
Calathea can attract all the usual suspects when it comes to bugs; aphids, scales, mealybugs, and spider mites all love these plants. Neem oil or soapy water can be used to deal with any infestations that may occur.
Root rot can be caused by overwatering, and mold on the soil can be caused by overwatering or a lack of light. You can simply scrape soil mold off the top, and move the plant to an area with better light.
You’d think something named after a rattlesnake would be toxic, but you’d be wrong! The Calathea family is great if you have pets in your household, as these plants are non-toxic for dogs and cats.
It’s also generally fine if a child happens to decide to take a bite out of it (not that it’s recommended), so you can keep these friendly houseplants anywhere in your home without worry.
Common questions about rattlesnake plant care
Should I fertilize my rattlesnake plant?
During the growing season, rattlesnake plants like to be fertilized monthly with liquid fertilizer. In the winter months, leave it to dormancy and do not fertilize.
Should I mist my rattlesnake plant?
Dry air is one of the main things that can negatively affect the health of your rattlesnake plant. If you suspect the air may be too dry, frequent misting to maintain humidity is necessary for this plant.
You can also encourage a humid environment by bringing the plant into the bathroom when you shower, or utilizing a pebble tray under the plant to trap water runoff.
Should I prune my rattlesnake plant?
Pruning can form part of your rattlesnake care routine. It’s a good idea to remove dying leaves to encourage better growth for the healthy remainder of the plant. Ensure you use clean utensils when pruning to avoid bacterial infection, and make smooth cuts to avoid shocking the plant.
You can cut dying stems an inch from the soil. Even if you have to cut the whole plant back to this level, they will often regenerate and you may start seeing new growth within a few months.