Rattlesnake Plant Care (Calathea Lancifolia)

The Rattlesnake Plant won’t bite you, but its ornate foliage may steal your heart. Rattlesnake Plant leaves, you guessed it, look a lot like the markings on a tropical snake with alternating dark-green blotches arranged up the center. Calatheas, in general, are a little fussy about watering and light, but they aren’t challenging to tend as long as you know what to expect.

Regardless of how difficult this Calathea is, it is entirely worth the effort to see it strut its impressive foliage all day long. You’re in for a treat with this houseplant. Make sure you locate it somewhere you can admire it regularly!

Rattlesnake Plant Origin and History

The Rattlesnake plant is native to tropical Brazil. It has been through several scientific name changes, from C.lancifolia to C.insignis to Goeppertia insignis. The last one is the current, correct name, but it hasn’t really caught on yet, so you may see the Rattlesnake Plant listed under any of these scientific names.

All angles of the Rattlesnake Plant are spectacular. The top of the foliage is a deep-green to yellow-green with dark-green splotches alternating up either side of the midrib. It looks like someone carefully painted a stem with leaves, on the leaf.

Rattlesnake Plant leaves are lance-shaped and grow 18-25″ long. They grow in a bunch, like many swords pointing upwards and outwards from a central base to create an attractive, overlapping display. The foliage naturally arches over a little bit instead of sticking straight up.

In addition to upper foliage straight out of a master design book, Rattlesnake Plants also have crinkled, wavy leaf edges with a dark green border. The undersides are a magnificent burgundy maroon, adding stunning contrast to the multiple greens on the topsides of the leaves.

Like all Calatheas, also commonly known as prayer plants, the Rattlesnake Plant foliage unfolds during the day to flaunt its bright coloring. Then, at night, it folds up like hands in prayer to showcase its deep purple-red undersides. Don’t be alarmed if you see the leaves moving at any time; this is entirely normal.

Calathea lancifolia

Rattlesnake Plant Care

In this section we cover important Rattlesnake Plant care topics such as watering, lighting, repotting, fertilizing, and more.

Growth Habit

When new leaves appear, they are curled tightly, and all you can see is the magenta-colored underside. As they grow, they unfurl – this usually takes 12-24 hours, depending on the conditions in your home. The topsides of the leaves will also be lighter colored when new, then will darken as they mature.

A healthy Rattlesnake Plant will grow 2-3 feet tall. It looks like a fountain with many cascading leaves and will spread as wide as it is tall.


Like most Calathea/Goeppertia species, the Rattlesnake Plant likes significant indirect sunlight but never direct light. Some early morning sunlight in an east-facing window is perfect.

If you put your Rattlesnake Plant in front of a west or south-facing window, set it back a little way, so no direct sun touches the leaves. A sheer curtain or blinds can also help moderate light levels. The foliage will burn if it gets too much direct sunlight.


Rattlesnake Plants appreciate a regularly moist soil that isn’t soggy but also isn’t allowed to dry out. The exact watering schedule will vary depending on where you live, how much sun the plant is receiving, and your home’s temperature and humidity levels. It’s always best to check the soil every time before you water to ensure you are not over or under watering it.

To check the moisture level, stick your finger into the top 2 inches of soil. If it is still wet, wait a couple more days before watering. If the soil is on the dry side, it’s time to water.

Calathea/Goeppertia plants are sensitive to salts and additives, which are often found in tap water. Hard tap water is especially harmful to this houseplant. Use distilled water or rainwater with your Rattlesnake plant to avoid issues. Poor water quality will cause the foliage to turn brown.

When you water, slowly pour it into the soil until it runs out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. If you have a saucer underneath your container, wait 5-10 minutes, then empty it of any excess water. This is to ensure the Rattlesnake Plant’s roots aren’t sitting in pools of water, which may lead to root rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Warm temperatures (65-80F) and high humidity (minimum 50%) are what a Rattlesnake Plant needs to thrive. It’s a tropical plant and will suffer in cold and dry locations. In general, most homes are warm enough, but they are usually too dry, meaning you’ll need to increase the humidity for your houseplants’ happiness.

There are several ways to increase humidity. A store-bought humidifier is an excellent option if you have the available funds and lots of houseplants. You can also do a DIY humidifier pebble tray, which doesn’t work as well, but still does a fine job.

To make a pebble tray humidifier, fill a baking tray with pebbles. Place the pot on top of it, then fill the tray with water. As the water evaporates, it adds moisture to the air, which your Rattlesnake plant can then absorb. You’ll need to refill the tray regularly.

A third option, to use in conjunction with the other two, is lightly misting the foliage in the morning. Only do it in the morning, so the water has time to evaporate, and the leaves can dry off before the colder night sets in. Also, only mist lightly – you’re trying to add humidity, not water the leaves. Consistent overly wet leaves may lead to fungal diseases.

Keep your Rattlesnake plant away from cold drafts, air conditioners, forced heat, radiators, and stoves. Temperature extremes make this plant very unhappy.

Potting Soil and Containers

An all-purpose potting soil mix is perfectly fine for this houseplant. It’s a good idea to add a handful of extra perlite and coco coir to the mix to improve water retention and drainage. It’s crucial that the soil retains the right amount of water and that any excess drains really well, so the soil isn’t soggy.

Always use a potting container with drainage holes. Soggy soil that can’t drain the excess away is a sure recipe for root rot, which is usually a death sentence for a houseplant. Don’t use terracotta or clay pots, as these absorb moisture and are not a good fit for the Rattlesnake, which likes moist soil.


Use a general houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength and apply it to the soil every month during the growing season (spring through mid-fall). During the winter, refrain from fertilizing so the plant can rest. You’ll want to flush out the soil every few months to prevent fertilizer salt build-up.


No pruning is necessary, except to remove old or damaged foliage.


The Rattlesnake Plant is not toxic to people or pets.


When the plant becomes root-bound (you can see the roots trying to escape through the drainage holes), it is time to repot. Repotting to a larger container will give your Rattlesnake Plant the room needed to grow larger. If you want it to stay the same size, repot to the same container.

Repotting is necessary on a regular (1-2 year) basis to refresh the potting soil. Old potting soil gets compacted and depleted of nutrients.

Calathea lancifolia

Rattlesnake Plant Propagation

Rattlesnake plants are best propagated through division, which requires removing the plant from its pot and separating out the individual root clumps. Propagate in the spring when you’re repotting to reduce excessive handling of the roots.

  1. Carefully take the plant out of the container and look over the roots for any issues.
  2. If the roots look healthy and robust, you can separate them. Only do this with mature plants, not young and small ones.
  3. The roots are likely to be entangled, so take a deep breath, work slowly, and be patient. Separate out the root clusters – each clump should have a strong set of roots and at least one leaf growing.
  4. Put each root cluster in its own pot.
  5. Water the new divisions thoroughly and put the container in a warm location with lots of bright indirect light.
  6. New propagations often look defeated and shocked, which is totally normal. Give them a couple of weeks, and they should recover.

Pests and Diseases

In this section we cover common pests and issue that you may deal with when keeping Rattlesnake Plants.

Spider Mites, Aphids, Mealy Bugs, and Scale

All houseplants are subject to infestations by these problematic little bugs. Because of their minuscule size, it’s often hard to see them, so it’s essential you do regular inspections of your houseplant to catch the problem early. A small infestation left unchecked will quickly escalate. Give your Rattlesnake plant a once over every time you water, and don’t forget to look underneath the leaves, where most bugs start out.

A neem oil spray treatment is the most effective method of dealing with these pests. Mix two teaspoons neem oil with one teaspoon dish soap in a quart spray bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle up with water. Spray the foliage every 5-7 days until the pests are gone. Don’t forget to spray under the leaves and the top layer of soil, too (where insects sometimes lay their eggs or hibernate).

The majority of pest infestations happen when the plant is stressed and unable to fight off attackers. When you’re fighting the pests, double-check your Calathea is receiving enough water (and not too much) and light (and not too much or too little).

Common Questions

Here are a few of the most common questions about Rattlesnake Plant care:

Why are the leaves of my Rattlesnake Plant brown?

Browning leaves may be the result of several issues. Foliage that is getting too much direct sunlight will brown and die off. Also, if the water has too many salts or additives, it may cause brown spots to form at the leaf tips. A third potential problem is a dry plant that is not receiving enough moisture, causing the foliage to die.

The most common issue is underwatering, so evaluate that first. Underwatered foliage gets crispy brown at the edges before turning completely brown.

What is causing my Rattlesnake Plant’s leaves to turn yellow?

Yellow leaves most often result from overwatering. First, check the moisture level, and don’t forget to do it every time before watering to make sure you’re giving the plant too much.

Why are the leaves moving?

Don’t worry; you’re Rattlesnake Plant isn’t haunted by ghosts or snakes. This family of plants rises and falls naturally with the sun. At night, they fold up, and then in the morning, they unfurl again. Some say they hear a rattling when this happens, which only adds to the rattlesnake/ghost aura – we think it only gives this plant more personality to love.

Why aren’t my leaves moving every day?

If you notice your Rattlesnake plant is not folding up at night and unfolding in the morning like it is supposed to, it could be for several reasons. Temperature extremes may interfere with the plant’s movements – a stable environment is best.

Another reason could be it’s dark and gray outside, and your Rattlesnake Plant doesn’t recognize the daytime because it’s not bright enough. Or, the opposite, there are too many lights on, even at night, and it messes the plant’s cycle up.

Why is the foliage of my Rattlesnake plant curled up?

Curled-up matured leaves usually are not getting enough humidity, or they’ve been exposed to too much light. Move the plant away from the light and increase the humidity, and your plant should uncurl its leaves and continue growing.

The exquisitely painted leaves of the Rattlesnake Plant add a bold and breath-taking weight to any space it occupies. Let it be the drama queen it wants to be, and you will be rewarded with lush growth, spectacular displays, and an incredible tropical ambiance. This is an ideal beginner Calathea, as it’s not quite as fussy as some others, but also it will not allow neglect. Be attentive, and your Rattlesnake Plant will shine.

About The Author

Teri Tracy

Hi, I'm Teri! I am a plant collector and former botanist who's spent years learning about and caring for plants from all over the world. I'm passionate about biodiversity and rainforest preservation, and I love to study newly discovered plants in my free time. 

Leave a Comment