The rattlesnake plant, or Goeppertia insignis, is a tropical houseplant native to the Brazilian rainforests. It is called the rattlesnake plant because its leaves point upward in the evening but droop downward in the daytime, mimicking the movement of a rattlesnake.
The leaves of this plant have a variegated pattern of different shades of green, while the undersides of the leaves are a purplish-red hue. Their edges are typically wavy, further adding to the plant’s aesthetic.
This plant is not the easiest to care for, so beginners may have some difficulty growing it.
One of the most common problems an indoor gardener may encounter with the plant is the leaves turning brown. This is due to an environmental factor causing the plant stress, and in order to remedy the problem, you will need to establish exactly which factor that is.
The most probable causes of browning rattlesnake plant leaves include low humidity, insufficient water, too much fertilizer, pests, and the plant’s natural aging process.
In this article, we will discuss each of these possible causes, as well as what you can do to remedy the problem. So, if you are experiencing this issue with your own rattlesnake plant, read on to learn more about it.
Why are the leaves of my rattlesnake plant turning brown?
Because rattlesnake plants are native to the Brazilian rainforests, they prefer a higher level of humidity than most houseplants. Ideally, they should have a humidity level of at least 50 percent. Any lower than that, and your plant will start to manifest signs of stress.
There are several signs that will help confirm that your plant is suffering due to low humidity. The most common of these is the appearance of brown tips on the plant’s leaves, with the discoloration gradually spreading throughout the leaf.
The leaves may also turn yellow, droop, and become crisp after prolonged exposure to low humidity.
If you think your rattlesnake plant’s leaves are turning brown because of low humidity, you can use a hygrometer to measure the humidity in your home.
Alternatively, try the ice cube method: place three ice cubes in a glass and fill the glass with water. Stir the water, then wait five minutes. If no visible moisture forms on the glass, this means the air in the room is extremely dry.
There are numerous ways to increase the room’s humidity if necessary. Misting your rattlesnake plant will temporarily moisten its foliage, but if the air is especially dry where you live, you might have to do this multiple times a day.
If you are an avid plant collector, you can group all of your humidity-loving plants together so that they create a microclimate around each other.
You can also use a water pebble tray. Place the plant’s pot on top of a tray filled with pebbles and water; as the water evaporates from the tray, it will moisten the air around the plant.
Using a humidifier is the most effective and convenient method of increasing the humidity in a room. It can automatically regulate the humidity without saturating the air with too much moisture. If you choose this method, keep your rattlesnake plant and all of your other humidity-loving plants in the same room so that you do not have to buy multiple humidifiers.
Not enough water
If you have been neglecting to water your rattlesnake plant and the soil in its pot has dried out too much, it will suffer the symptoms of underwatering. If its leaves have turned brown and are also drooping, curling, and dry, it is most likely underwatered.
Rattlesnake plants generally require weekly watering to thrive. However, depending on the environmental conditions and the size of the plant, this frequency may vary.
If your plant is showing signs of underwatering, check the soil’s moisture content before doing anything else.
Poke a hole in the soil with your finger; if it feels dry to the touch and no dirt sticks to your finger as you pull it out, the plant is dehydrated.
Depending on how long your soil has been dry, your treatment approach may differ slightly.
If you are a few days behind on your watering, all you have to do is give your rattlesnake plant a good soaking.
If, on the other hand, it has been a longer time since you last watered the plant, the soil may have become hydrophobic. This means that it is so dry that it is unable to absorb water from above; any water poured into the pot will simply be deflected and will drain out of the pot without coming anywhere near the plant’s dehydrated roots.
To rehydrate hydrophobic soil, you need to water from the bottom. Place the plant’s pot in a shallow basin filled with three inches of water, and leave it there to soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
The thirsty soil will absorb the water through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
After 10 to 15 minutes, remove the pot from the basin and allow any excess water to drain out before returning the plant to its usual spot. After three to four watering cycles, the plant should start to show signs of recovery.
Too much fertilizer
The rattlesnake plant can be fertilized once a month during its growing season. Fertilization is not recommended during the fall and winter, because the plant is not actively growing during these months, so it will not be using up the nutrients and minerals in its soil. If you add fertilizer at this time, it will likely cause a build-up of mineral salts that can cause soil toxicity and root burn.
Root burn affects the roots’ ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and this causes the plant’s foliage to turn brown, curl and dry out. The weakened plant will also become more vulnerable to diseases and pest infestations.
If your rattlesnake plant is overfertilized, flushing the soil with water can help clear the mineral salt build-up.
Place the plant in the kitchen sink or in the shower and water the soil until you see excess water flowing out of the pot’s drainage holes. The volume of water you use to flush the soil should be roughly four times the volume of the plant’s pot.
After 15 minutes, pour the same volume of water into the soil again. Repeat this process every 15 minutes for a total of four cycles. After the last cycle, place the plant on a drying rack to allow all of the excess water to drain overnight.
Even if you are correctly fertilizing your plant, flushing the soil every six months as a precautionary measure can be beneficial in the long term.
If you have only recently brought your rattlesnake plant home from the store, it is possible that the browning of its leaves could be due to pests already living on the plant.
Pests such as mealybugs, scale insects, spider mites, and aphids feed on the sap in the tissues of the plant, and brown spots will appear on the areas where the pests have fed. Over time, the brown spots will begin to spread across the leaf until the entire leaf becomes brown.
Spider mites are the most common pests to infest rattlesnake plants, and they can cause significant damage to the foliage. They leave tell-tale white webbing between the plant’s leaves and stems.
If you suspect that brown spots on your plant are caused by spider mites, you should inspect
the undersides of the leaves. These bugs are white or reddish-brown in color, which makes them easy to spot against the foliage if you look closely.
The first step in pest eradication and control is to quarantine your infected plant and keep it far away from your healthy plants.
Remove the brown and damaged leaves using sterile pruning shears or scissors. There may be pest eggs on the damaged leaves you have removed, so be sure to dispose of the trimmings properly.
You can remove and kill the remaining pests by placing the plant in the shower and letting a strong stream of water wash them off.
If there are still pests left on the plant after removing it from the shower, put some neem oil or rubbing alcohol on a cotton pad and wipe down the affected areas with that. Repeat this treatment every three days until you are sure that all the pests have been eradicated.
Rattlesnake plants’ leaves turn yellow and eventually brown as they age, even with the best possible care and growing conditions.
During the course of its development and growth, the plant will shed some of its older leaves in order to make room for new growth. This is completely normal and is part of the plant’s life cycle.
As long as the number of leaves that fall off the plant is not significant and there are no other signs of illness, there is little reason to be concerned.
Rattlesnake plant care
The best light for this plant is filtered light, as it would get in its natural habitat. If you want to put your rattlesnake plant near a window, choose one that does not let in a lot of direct afternoon sunlight, or use drapes to diffuse the strong light. A bright spot in a well-lit room away from direct sunlight is the best choice.
When it comes to soil, it is important that it drains efficiently but is still able to retain some moisture. A light, sandy soil or a potting mix comprising two parts peat moss and one part perlite will work well. These plants can tolerate a slightly acidic or neutral pH, but alkaline soils should be avoided.
During the summer, when your rattlesnake plant is experiencing the most growth, it will require more frequent watering to keep its soil or potting mix moist. During the winter, allow the top layer of soil to dry out before watering the plant again.
Temperature and humidity requirements
Keep the temperature around your plant between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit to keep it happy. If it is exposed to temperatures hotter than 75 degrees for an extended period of time, the leaves will wilt and turn brown, and the plant will eventually die.
Also keep the plant away from air conditioning and heating systems to avoid exposing it to hot and cold drafts and dry air.
If you live in a dry climate, you can use a humidifier to regulate the humidity around your rattlesnake plant.
During the growing season in the spring and summer, your rattlesnake plant will appreciate a monthly feeding. The use of a well-balanced liquid fertilizer encourages the development of healthy foliage, but do not overfertilize the plant as this can cause soil toxicity and root burn.
The thick leaves of your rattlesnake plant may serve as a breeding ground for pests. Aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites are among the usual suspects to watch out for. Some pests can be found underneath the leaves, but they are small so you will need to look carefully. Treat infestations as soon as possible with rubbing alcohol or neem oil, or simply wash the insects off the leaves with a soft cloth dipped in soapy water.
The rattlesnake plant gets its name from its leaves that point straight upward in the evening and droop back down in the morning, similar to the movement of a rattlesnake. This plant is native to the rainforests of Brazil and can be a bit sensitive to unfavorable conditions, especially if they are significantly different to those in its natural habitat.
One of the most common problems encountered by owners of rattlesnake plants is when their plants’ leaves turn brown, which is due to one or more environmental factors causing the plant stress.
The possible causes of browning rattlesnake plant leaves are low humidity, not enough water, too much fertilizer, pests and the natural aging process of the plant.
Image: istockphoto.com / chayuth parasignha