Complete Guide to the Rattlesnake Plant

7 Aug 2022

The rattlesnake plant is undoubtedly a very interesting houseplant choice, both for its tropical nature and fun facts. One of these fun facts is that its current scientific name is Goeppertia insignis, but it used to be classified as Calathea lancifolia. The Calathea genus is a fascinating one if you’re interested.

And even now, some information online is still listed under its previous scientific name. So be sure to keep an eye out for “Calathea lancifolia” during your research of this plant.

But in any case, today we’re going to be discussing the rattlesnake plant and tell you everything you need to know in order to take care of this stunning plant! And reading this care guide is vital, because this variety is known to be quite the diva unlike easier plants such as the lucky bamboo.

The Main Characteristics

To take proper care of any houseplant, you need to first understand what you’re working with. So here is some general information you may find helpful about the rattlesnake plant.

How Big Does It Get?

The mature Goeppertia insignis will typically reach a height of anywhere from 9 to 20 inches (23 to 51 centimeters) and a width of 9 to 18 inches (23 to 46 centimeters).

But of course, a lot of this plant’s growth will depend on its environment, care, and other variables. So it’s hard to narrow the numbers down any more than that.

How Fast Does It Grow?

Plants from the Calathea genus (which you’ll remember from earlier, the rattlesnake plant used to belong to) are known to grow at a fairly moderate rate, about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) per year. This information is still accurate although the plant has been recategorized.

So it could take anywhere from 1 to 3 years for this variety to reach its mature size depending on certain conditions and variables.

How Long Does It Live?

These plants rely greatly on their care and environment to survive, so their lifespan is directly correlated to those things. In other words, you’re pretty much in charge of how long your Goeppertia insignis will live.

If it isn’t living in an optimal environment then you can expect this variety to live only a few months or a year maximum. But if you take excellent care of it, it can live around 40 years.

Toxicity Information

This section will briefly cover whether or not the Goeppertia insignis has the potential to become toxic to pets or children.

Is It Toxic to Cats & Dogs?

If you’re a dog or cat owner and you’re hoping to get a rattlesnake plant then you should be pleased to know that it is perfectly safe. Rattlesnake plants are completely non-toxic to dogs and cats.

Your pets pose more of a danger to these plants that they do to your pets, since too much nibbling could cause damage to its leaves. For this reason you may need to keep your houseplant out of your pet’s reach if they’ve tried to ingest it before.

Is It Poisonous to Humans?

Thankfully, this variety is also safe and non-toxic to humans. So even though it isn’t advisable to go around ingesting houseplants, you won’t die if you do so.

So this is a great option for households that have small children. Much like the elephant bush!

Rattlesnake Plant Care

So now that you know a bit more about this variety, let’s get into how exactly to give it its best life with a detailed care guide.

How Often to Water It

There are different watering requirements for the Goeppertia insignis based on the season you’re in so you’ll need to know the correct schedule for each time of the year. But keep in mind, that as a tropical plant, it will need plenty of water at all times.

In the summertime, which is the time when most growth occurs, your rattlesnake plant will need more water. Water it frequently during this time, about every other day. But only water it until you see the moisture start to trickle out of the draining holes, don’t irrigate it too deeply.

In the wintertime you can water it less often, but if the soil dries out then you should re-hydrate it swiftly. Just make sure not to overwhelm it, small and frequent doses of water are best for this plant.

The Draining Needs

As with most houseplants, including the spider plant, this variety will need adequate drainage to prevent potentially serious health issues.

So make sure to select a pot with drainage holes, and always empty out the saucer below the pot after you water the plant so that it isn’t sitting in excess moisture.


This particular houseplant needs very little pruning. In fact, you should only be pruning this plant to remove dead or damaged leaves.

And the process of pruning when it’s needed is simple as well! Using either a sharp knife or some scissors, trim off the dry or damaged leaf close to the stem and then discard the pruned leaf appropriately.

How and How Often to Repot It

You’ll probably need to repot your Goeppertia insignis about once every one to two years. You can tell it’s time to repot when the roots have completely filled the soil, or the foliage growth has become too plentiful for the current container.

If you notice it’s time for repotting, follow the next steps listed in order to do it properly.

  1. Choose new pot, it should be one size larger than the previous one.
  2. Fill the bottom of the new pot with a potting soil mixture.
  3. Gently pluck the plant from its old pot (you don’t have to loosen the root ball soil as the new roots will grow into the new soil just fine anyway).
  4. Place the plant in the new pot.
  5. Fill the rest of the pot with soil, but make sure to keep the soil levels at around the same spot as the previous pot to mimic the plant’s old environment.
  6. Water the newly repotted plant.
  7. Place it in its designated spot.

The Necessary Environment

The proper environment is key for this tropical variety’s survival so make sure you can provide it with the following environment conditions or you should expect a very short lifespan from your rattlesnake plant.

Light Requirements

Like any other plant, the Goeppertia insignis needs about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. But it’s very sensitive to direct sunlight, so you should avoid harsh lighting at all costs.

Good places to place your rattlesnake plant for optimal lighting would be places that receive morning sunlight, bright places in well-lit rooms but not actually in front of the windows themselves, or in front of windows that have drapes that you can use to filter the harsh sunlight.

Best Soil

Here are some of the main points to keep in mind when choosing a soil for this variety…

  • Stay away from alkaline soils!
  • Try to choose soils with slightly acidic or neutral pH levels.
  • Make sure the soil is well draining.

Two soil options which would be ideal for this tropical houseplant would be a potting mix with two parts peat moss and one part perlite, or a light and sandy soil.

Optimal Fertilizing Regiment

Unlike other houseplants, such as the panda plant, the rattlesnake plant does require fertilizer especially during the spring and summer when its growing.

As far as the kind of fertilizer you should use, choose a balanced liquid fertilizer for the best results. The simply follow the directions on the package to figure out the correct amount.

And as for the schedule, you should probably aim to fertilize this variety about every month during the spring and summer.

Pot Size and Type

For sizing you want to get a pot that give about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of extra room from the side of the pot to the roots.

It will need to be a pot that provides plenty of drainage, preferably it would have several drainage holes instead of just one.

And materials that are well suited for the Goeppertia insignus are plastic, metal, or glazed ceramic.

Temperature Range

Temperature is an important factor in your rattlesnake plant’s lifespan and growth, it will thrive in temperatures between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 24 degrees Celsius).

Temperatures that dip below that range can be damaging faster than temperatures that go above it, as this variety is very sensitive to cold air since it is a tropical plant type.

Correct Humidity Levels

This is the environmental factor you must get right for your Goeppertia insignus to survive and live a long life! Because an incorrect humidity level can swiftly cause this variety to shrivel and die.

Your rattlesnake plant needs humidity levels of around 50% to 65%, and the higher those levels can be on the spectrum, the better. Humidity levels below 50% will kill this houseplant within a short period of time.

You also need to avoid letting any dry air circulate around your plant, so it shouldn’t be placed near air conditioning vents, heaters, fans, etc.

Some things that you can do to increase the humidity, or at least the moisture of your plant, would be to…

  • Invest in a humidifier that you can put in the room that your rattlesnake plant stays.
  • Regularly mist the plant with water.
  • Bring it to the bathroom with you when you shower much like you would with the maidenhair fern.
  • Put your pot on a tray with pebbles that will hold excess water in but not waterlog the plant.

Indoors Versus Outdoors

Although the Goeppertia insignus can technically be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones of 11b to 12b, it is typically suggested that you grow them indoors due to their delicate nature and dislike of sudden temperature changes that you can’t control if they’re outdoors.


This type of houseplant generally won’t produce flowers indoors, so you shouldn’t expect any blooms from this variety.

In its native habitat, however, this variety produces small, yellow flowers during the springtime.

How to Grow It

Now we’re going to discuss how you can actually begin to grow this beautiful plant if you have decided you’d like to make it part of your home. But you should note that propagating this variety through seeds is difficult so it’s normally best if you propagate it through division.

Which is what we’ll be discussing how to do now…

Propagation Through Division

Firstly, the best timing for propagating the rattlesnake plant through division is to do so in the spring or around the time you’d normally be repotting it.

  1. Before you even start the process water the chosen plant the day before, so that it helps reduce potential stress caused by the dividing and propagating.
  2. Also before you officially begin, choose what pot you’ll put your new rattlesnake plant in after the division and make sure to follow the guidelines above.
  3. Fill the new pot about 1/3 of the way full with your potting mixture.
  4. Gently place the pot holding your houseplant on its side to make it easier to remove the plant from it.
  5. Slide the root ball out of the container.
  6. Gently brush of the excess soil from the root ball.
  7. Begin to gently pull apart root sections that seem easy to separate but don’t force apart sections if it means breaking the roots.
  8. Use this opportunity to trim off any damaged or dead sections of root.
  9. Once you’ve obtained your new root ball and plant section from the original, place it in its chosen pot.
  10. Fill around the plant with soil, and add some soil from the original pot as well since this will help the newly propagated plant to adjust better.
  11. Water the new plant thoroughly.

How to Revive It

Even the most thorough houseplant owners will have to deal with their plant becoming ill at some point. So it’s best to know what ailments commonly plague your plant, and how to deal with them. Here’s a section on common ailments of the Goeppertia insignus.

Spotting on Leaves

As was mentioned earlier in the guide, this variety is sensitive to harsh and direct lighting but it still needs a certain amount of sun. Its a fine line because if its exposed to too much or too little then there could be serious consequences.

If you notice strange green spots suddenly appearing on the leaves of the rattlesnake plant then it’s probably receiving too much direct sunlight and will need to be moved to a place with less harsh lighting.

However, if you notice the natural spotted markings of this plant start to fade then its receiving too little light and needs to be moved to a place with more sunlight.

Leaves Curling and Turning Brown

If you’re noticing things like the edges of the leaves turning brown or the foliage curling up in an unnatural way then it’s probably due to the humidity levels being too low.

In this case you need to reevaluate how you can add humidity to the space in which your plant resides.

Yellowing Leaves

If your rattlesnake plant’s leaves have begun to turn yellow, particularly the lower leaves, then you may be underwatering the plant.

Check to make sure the soil is moist, and if it isn’t then make sure to water your plant. And keep a closer eye on your watering habits in the future.

Limp Stems

If the Goeppertia insignus’s stems start to appear limp then the issue is probably that the plant is being overwatered, and this could also lead to other issues like root rot which could kill the plant!

So if you notice limp stems then feel of the soil and check the tray below your plant for any extra water.

Dump out any excess water, and cut back on the watering if the plant appear waterlogged.

Final Notes

Although the rattlesnake plant can be a bit difficult to maintain at times and needs a certain environment to thrive in, it’s still a great addition to any household especially since it’s non-toxic.

Its beautiful and tropical leaves could grace your home for a long time if you take proper care of it and do your research, and hopefully this guide has helped educate you on what this variety needs to live a happy life!

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