The Rattlesnake Plant is a striking specimen with head-turning foliage that looks simply amazing. It’s not quite as high-maintenance as some other Calatheas (now Goeppertia), which makes it a great gateway into an obsession with these exotic houseplants. Let’s look at everything you need to know about Rattlesnake Plant care to help you keep this gorgeous houseplant looking great.
To provide great Rattlesnake Plant care, place your plant in bright, indirect light and keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Plant in light, well-draining soil, provide temperatures of 65°F(18ºC) to 85°F (30°C) and maintain high humidity. Fertilize lightly every 2-4 weeks through the growing season.
Rattlesnake Plant Overview
The Calathea lancifolia, more commonly known as the Rattlesnake Plant, has recently been scientifically renamed to Goeppertia insignis. In honor of the many Calathea fans still working through the transition, we’ll refer to the plant by its accepted common name. Just know the Goeppertia name seems here to stay, but it’ll take some time until we all get used to it.
The Rattlesnake plant hails from South American rainforests and is considered one of the easiest of the Calathea (Goeppertia) family to maintain. It’s a type of Marantaceae, or Prayer Plant, and shares the group’s charming photoactive foliage that moves with its light source and folds up at night.
The warm, damp, dark forest floor is the natural habitat of the Rattlesnake Plant. It’s an evergreen perennial with a rhizome root system that grows moderately in ideal conditions. Large specimens can reach three feet high or more with a spread of up to three feet.
The standout feature of the Rattlesnake plant is its foliage. The long, narrow leaves are vibrant light green with a dark green pattern that imaginatively recalls its namesake. Each has wavy margins and a purple undercoating.
Rattlesnake Plant Care Summary
|Scientific Name||Goeppertia insignis (Calathea lancifolia is an accepted synonym)|
|Light Requirements||Moderate, indirect light. Will not tolerate direct sunlight.|
|Watering||Keep the soil lightly moist at all times. Water once the top inch of soil is starting to dry out. Water thoroughly each time and make sure all excess drains thoroughly.|
|Soil||Two parts peat or coco coir and one part perlite or another suitable drainage amendment works well.|
|Temperature||65°F (18ºC) to 85°F (30°C). They won’t like the thermometer to fall below 60°F (15°C).|
|Fertilizer||Fertilize every 2-4 weeks while actively growing. Dilute to half or a quarter the strength recommended on most commercial preparations. It is better to use a little on a regular basis than a stronger preparation less often. will not tolerate being over-fertilized.|
|Humidity||High humidity of at least 50% is very important to keep the foliage looking well.|
|Flowering||Rarely produces insignificant, white or yellow flowers on short spikes that emerge directly from the soil.|
|Pruning||Minimal required. Remove damaged or dead foliage as required.|
|Propagation||Propagate larger plants by division.|
|Re-Potting||Repot only when quite root-bound. Tolerates repotting better than most Calatheas (Goeppertias)|
|Diseases and Pests||Susceptible to most common houseplant pests. Early detection and treatment is important. Not prone to any specific diseases, other than root rot secondary to overwatering.|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to humans and animals|
Rattlesnake Plant Light Requirements
Because the Rattlesnake plant originated in the dim filtered illumination of a forest floor, its relationship with light is a little odd. Their whole system is geared for seeking light – mobile leaves move to catch each precious ray, their colors and undercoating grab at each stray lumen – but it can’t cope with conditions that are too bright.
Their preferred light range is from medium to low. The light must be indirect: direct sun will quickly scorch them. Even if they don’t burn outright, the leaves fade in bright light.
If their colors fade, lower the light. The Rattlesnake Plant’s colors are deepest when it’s trying to conserve lumens – the challenge is to find the level that maintains their colors while keeping them growing and healthy. As a general rule, you should be able to read comfortably in the light your Rattlesnake plant receives.
I’ve written an article that covers lighting for houseplants in more detail. This is a crucial aspect of houseplant care, and mastering it will massively improve your success with growing houseplants.
Partial or dappled shade is suitable, and mild early sun can be tolerated. They also do well when supplemented with artificial lighting.
- An east-facing window is a great exposure. It offers gentle direct light each morning and a full day of indirect illumination.
- West-facing window is also good, but be prepared to move them a foot or two away from the window to avoid hot late afternoon sunlight.
- North-facing windows offer the least amount of light; you may need to add supplemental lighting.
- South-facing windows can be tricky. You’ll need to protect the plant with sheer curtains or by moving it five or so feet away from the panes to avoid direct sun.
Although Rattlesnake Plant care is less demanding than other Calatheas (Goeppertias), they still have stringent requirements for soil moisture.
The goal is to keep their medium slightly moist at all times. You’ll need well-draining soil, and you can’t water on a set schedule – you need to monitor them.
The general rule is to water when the top inch of soil is dry. You can also learn to judge the weight of the pot to know whether it needs water. Read this article for more tips to help you know when your houseplants need to be watered.
Here are tips:
- You will need to water less in winter, but never let them dry out completely.
- If the soil does get too dry, soak it thoroughly. Peat moss is particularly difficult to rehydrate.
- If you receive advice to let the plant dry out a bit more between waterings, be aware the donor’s soil may have a higher water retention than yours. Listen to the plant.
- When you water, run an excess amount through the soil to thoroughly saturate and flush the mix. If the soil drains very rapidly, you may need to soak it longer – but don’t let the soil stand in water. Empty any cache receptacles as soon as the pot has completely drained.
- Yellowing on the leaves is usually a sign of overwatering. The plant is very susceptible to rot, so inspect the roots if you see any sign of trouble.
If you’re running into problems with your Rattlesnake Plant care regime, you should definitely consider water quality as a potential issue. Calathea lancifolia (Goeppertia insignis) is sensitive to chlorines, minerals and other impurities in the water, and show their discomfort in their leaves.
If your tapwater is heavily mineralized, it’s best to give them distilled or filtered water, or even rainwater. The water you use should always be dechlorinated, and warm it to room temperature to avoid cold shock.
Rattlesnake Plant Soil Requirements
Providing the right soil is critical to providing good Rattlesnake Plant care. You want a mixture that retains aeration after being thoroughly soaked, but which also holds enough moisture to keep the plant hydrated between waterings.
There are several paths to perfect dirt. One common recipe is to combine two parts of peat moss or coco coir with one part perlite or other aerating amendment.
Here are suitable materials to use for your Rattlesnake Plant’s soil:
- Peat Moss – Peat holds water and provides some structure, but add inorganic aerating material to keep it open and draining well. Peat moss makes the soil a bit acidic and is hard to rehydrate if it dries.
- Coco Coir – This material has good water-retention, but doesn’t acidify the soil or breakdown like peat. Add aerating elements for the ideal consistency.
- Perlite – The classic aeration material. Perlite won’t break down and provides excellent drainage. It won’t alter soil pH, either … but it does tend to float to the top of the soil and get everywhere!
- Pumice – An excellent – if pricey – inorganic aeration material for a soilless mix. It won’t alter pH.
- Compost – Though sometimes used in place of perlite, organic materials break down and compact when kept moist and must be regularly replaced.
- Vermiculite – This aerating amendment holds water a little too well and is best added in small proportions.
- Coarse Sand – A thrifty element that can help keep your soil fluffy and open, but only use a coarse grade. Fine sand will compact the soil instead.
If you’d like to learn more about choosing and making soil for your houseplants, read this article. It covers everything you need to know about making sure your houseplants are always in the perfect soil.
One of the reasons this plant’s family has a reputation for being difficult is its humidity demands. The Rattlesnake Plant is more tolerant than its close relatives; but, though some tropical plants will adjust to low humidity, Goeppertias aren’t one of them.
The Rattlesnake Plant needs 50% or higher humidity to look its best. If your humidity is lower than that and you aren’t willing to move to the Amazon basin, here are a few options:
Grouping Plants – The easiest method is to emulate the plant’s natural setting by surrounding it with other tropical greenery. This method requires little upkeep: just water the plants normally and let them help each other.
You’ll only get a minor humidity bump; but, if your humidity isn’t too low, grouping could bring you over the top. Make sure there is good air circulation.
Water Tray – Placing water-filled trays near your plant will also slightly increase local air moisture. It won’t make up for arid conditions, but it raises humidity a few percentage points.
Note: Some growers save room by filling a water tray with pebbles and placing the pot on top. The container stays safely above the waterline. You’ll need to keep the trays filled, but otherwise, this is a simple low-tech plan.
Room Humidifier – Let’s jump to the big-time solution. Though it’s an investment in time and effort, if you want Instagram-ready foliage a humidifier is the way to go.
Misting – We can’t include misting for raising humidity, unfortunately. The mist just doesn’t hang around long enough to make a difference. Also, getting the foliage wet isn’t a good idea.
Watch for dry edges or lackluster leaves and take steps if necessary. Be aware that winter heating also affects humidity: a plant that does fine in the warmer months may struggle. Read this article for more great tips about increasing humidity for your houseplants.
Rattlesnake Plant Temperature Requirements
As a tropical native, your Rattlesnake Plant prefers temperatures at the warmer end of a range from 65°F (18ºC) to 85°F (30°C). They won’t like the thermometer to fall below 60°F (15°C).
They have a USDA Zone rating of 11 or 12 and aren’t hardy outdoors in most of the US. Keep them out of drafts, hot or cold, and avoid rapid fluctuations of temperature.
Fertilizing Calathea Lancifolia (Goeppertia Insignis)
The Rattlesnake Plant has moderate growth during the warm season and, though they need some extra nutrition – especially in a soilless mix – don’t overdo it. It’s sensitive and reacts badly to excess fertilizer and the residue left behind. When it comes to fertilization, less is more.
An organic fertilizer is safer than a synthetic blend and also benefits the soil’s ecology in plant-healthy ways. A little extra nitrogen is welcome; a 10-10-5 NPK formula works well.
It’s better to feed little and often rather than administering larger doses. Applying the fertilizer every 2-4 weeks at a half- or quarter-dilution is a common regimen.
Only feed from early spring to late summer.
The Rattlesnake’s warm-season flowers are somewhat apocryphal and are rarely – if ever – seen on a potted specimen. The white or yellow tubular blossoms are under an inch in diameter and emerge on short spikes.
No Pruning Needed
Now for the easy part: you don’t have to prune this plant. Even grooming is seldom necessary.
Unless they get too dry or something else has gone wrong, a Rattlesnake Plant doesn’t shed its leaves regularly. Remove old or damaged foliage, but otherwise just let the plant grow naturally.
Rattlesnake plants typically need to be repotted every year or two. Wait until the roots have filled the soil or foliage growth is overpowering the container.
The plant does well in a variety of pots, just make sure they have adequate drainage. Read my guide to choosing pots for houseplants to learn more. Only pot up one size (one to two inches in diameter). Too much excess soil without roots to absorb the water can throw off your watering regimen and lead to soil that stays too wet.
Be gentle with the roots. You don’t need to loosen the soil of the root ball: new shoots will grow into the fresh soil.
Replace the soil at the same level as before – burying the stem encourages rot. Read my article on repotting rootbound plants to make sure you get the process right.
How To Propagate Calathea Lancifolia (Goeppertia Insignis)
If you can keep the mother plant in good health, propagating your Rattlesnake plant isn’t too difficult. It’s a fun, low-cost way to expand your collection.
The main propagation method is by division. (You can grow a Rattlesnake Plant from seeds if you can find a reputable source; but, although you can grow multiple new plants that way, it takes more time and effort to produce a specimen you can enjoy.)
Division is best done in the spring: this gets the new plant off to a fast start and helps the parent recover quickly. Repotting is the ideal opportunity.
Water the plant the day before the operation—dry roots have less elasticity and are more prone to break and suffer damage. Treat the plant’s sensitive root system gently throughout the process.
Here are the steps:
- Select an appropriate pot and prepare new sterile medium with the same composition as the parent’s soil.
- Gently unpot the parent plant. Tease the roots slightly apart and find the best place for division. (It’s typical to divide the plant in half, but you can separate the roots of a large specimen into more clumps if desired.)
- Use your fingers to do the actual division. Try not to tear the roots. It’s better to leave soil on the roots rather than strip it away.
- Replant the divisions in fresh mix. Make sure the soil line comes to the same place on each plant’s base as it did in the original pot. Water thoroughly and put the plants in the same light as before.
- Optional: It’s beneficial to the divided plants to be tented in clear plastic. This raises humidity and maintains consistent soil moisture to aid recovery.
- Maintain proper soil moisture. Once you see new growth, begin removing the plastic for gradually increasing intervals.
- Read more about how to propagate Calatheas with ease in this article.
Rattlesnake Plant Care Tips
- Be alert to changes in indoor humidity, which can change with the weather or the use of either heating or air conditioning.
- Brown edges on your leaves can have several causes: low humidity, dry soil, direct sunlight, overfertilization, or an uneven watering routine.
- Keep water off the leaves! Discoloration and fungal infection can result from wet foliage.
- If temperatures are low, consider keeping the plant a bit drier to ward off leaf damage.
- Occasionally clean the leaves with a soft, damp cloth. This keeps them pristine, helps the plant to breathe, and provides an opportunity for pest inspection.
This Rattlesnake Plant is harmless. It’s safe for people and won’t poison dogs or cats. It is commonly used in vivariums.
There are dozens of Calathea (Goeppertia) species and hundreds of cultivars – but only one Rattlesnake Plant.
Pests And Diseases
Though their thick leaves are not especially vulnerable, the Rattlesnake plant is still subject to common pests. In particular, spider mites may become a problem in winter if conditions are on the dry side. An attack of aphids and/or mealybugs is also fairly common.
The best policy is to catch problems early. Fast intervention spares the plant and makes an infestation easier to control.
If you find unwelcome visitors, it’s best for you and the plant to use gentle treatments. A dilution of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol can be safe and effective. Light horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are other trusty standbys.
Here are some tips:
Spot test first – Before treating the entire plant, apply the solution to a small area to ensure there are no adverse reactions.
Apply under favorable conditions – Unless you’re having a pest emergency, don’t treat a plant that’s drought-stricken, sunburned, or under some other stress. Also, avoid using oil when temperatures are high.
Cover the plant thoroughly – These mild treatments must come into contact with the pests to have effect.
Followup as needed – In most cases, one application won’t completely eradicate an infestation. Reapply every five to seven days until the pests are gone.
Read my guide to identifying, treating and preventing common houseplants pests to ensure your houseplants are never troubled by pests again.
Rattlesnake plant care isn’t troubled by any specific diseases, but the moist conditions they need are hospitable to a number of pathogens, especially those that cause leaf spotting. Of course, root rot is always a danger if the soil remains too wet.
Keeping water off the foliage and letting the top inch of soil dry properly helps prevent problems. Remove affected leaves and discard them safely to avoid further contamination.
Hopefully I’ve answered all your questions about Rattlesnake Plant care and that your tropical beauty will thrive for many years to come. I’ve been completely gripped by Calathea (Goeppertia) addiction and my collection only gets bigger. Check out the following articles about some of my absolute favorites.
- How to care for Calathea orbifolia (Goeppertia orbifolia)
- How to care for Calathea warscewiczii (Goeppertia warszewiczii)
- How to care for Calathea zebrina (Goeppertia zebrina)
- How to care for Calathea ornata (Goeppertia ornata)
- Calathea crocata (Goeppertia crocata)
- 12 stunning Calathea (Goeppertia) varieties