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Rattlebox [WORK]

Its common name rattlebox is derived from the sound made when shaking the dried seed pods. Remaining on the plant after the leaves and flowers have died, the dry seeds inside the legume become detached. Winds blowing the pods create a rattling sound.


The common name rattlebox comes from the genus name, which is derived from the Greek word "crotalon" meaning rattle (the genus for rattlesnake is Crotalus). When the fruits mature they become hardened and the seeds rattle around inside. The species is widespread in eastern United States and can be weedy. It is on the list of noxious weeds for Arkansas and even though there is plenty of weedy habitat in New York we are the northeastern edge of its range and there is some environmental factor limiting its spread.

Larvae of the ornate moth (Utetheisa ornatrix), also known as the rattlebox moth, feed on the plant and re-purpose the poisonous compound as a defense, excreting it when they are threatened by potential predation (Wikipedia 2014). Bees polinate the bright yellow flowers (Francis 2002).

Liquid glyphosate formulations have been effective on rattlebox above the water line, but ineffective on plants in the water. They are broad spectrum, systemic herbicides. Systemic herbicides are absorbed and move within the plant to the site of action. Systemic herbicides tend to act more slowly than contact herbicides. An aquatically registered surfactant (see the label) will have to be added to the glyphosate solution for good results.

Showy crotalaria is a member of the legume family; therefore, it fixes nitrogen in the soil just as other legumes do. It was for this purpose that showy rattlebox was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s, as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. Since then, it has gotten out of hand and become labeled as a noxious or invasive weed in the southeast, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. It is problematic from Illinois down to Florida and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas.

Showy rattlebox is found along roadsides, in pastures, open or cultivated fields, wastelands, and disturbed areas. It is pretty easy to identify by its 1 to 6 foot (46 cm. to 2 m.) tall flower spikes, which are covered in late summer by large, yellow, sweet pea-like flowers. These flowers are then followed by the inflated cylindrical rattling seedpods.

Since it is a legume, showy crotalaria was an effective nitrogen-fixing cover crop. However, the problem with crotalaria toxicity became apparent immediately as livestock exposed to it began to die. Showy rattlebox contains a toxic alkaloid known as monocrataline. This alkaloid is toxic to chickens, game birds, horses, mules, cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, and dogs.

Showy rattlebox control measures include regular, persistent mowing or cutting and/or use of a growth-regulating herbicide. Herbicide control measures should be done in spring when plants are still small. As the plants mature, their stems become thicker and tougher, and they are more resistant to herbicides. Persistence is the key to getting rid of showy rattlebox.

Showy rattlebox (Crotalaria spectablis) is big and beautiful, often growing to be more than six feet tall. Native to southeast Asia, this woody annual is weedy and poisonous. Rattleweed is another common name.

Unlike the trifoliate leaves of the also often seen smooth rattlebox (Crotalaria pallida var. obovata), the leaves of showy rattlebox are simple (held singly), widest at the apex (top) of the leaf, and lighter in color on the undersides. Its leaves range from to two to six inches in size.

Bees and butterflies do visit its flowers, and crotalaria is the the larval host for the Ornate Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Interesting, this native moth develops more quickly on native crotalaria species. This brightly colored moth gets toxic alkaloids from its host plant, and the alkaloid content tends to be higher in showy rattlebox than in the native species. The larvae often feed upon and destroy the seeds, a positive when it comes to weedy invasive plants. You are what you eat: native versus exotic Crotalaria species as host plants of the Ornate Bella Moth explores this curious co-evolution.

Seed Saving: After blooming, the plant will produce rounded 1-2" seed pods that ripen from green to dark brown. As soon as the pods turn brown, remove them and spread them out to dry away from direct sunlight. Split the pods open and take out the seed. Store rattlebox flower seeds in a cool, dry place.

Arrow-head rattlebox is at the northeast limit of its distribution in New England, and is rare in several states. It is found in sandy soils of roadsides, fields, pond shores and borrow pits. The very inflated legumes and simple leaves make this a distinctive member of the legume family (Fabaceae).

You will need to keep your horse stalled in order to closely monitor him and to keep him comfortable during treatments. Additional therapies will be determined by the symptoms your horse is experiencing. She will treat symptomatically as symptoms appear. If he is suffering from breathing difficulties, she may want to supplement him with oxygen. If he begins to have convulsions, she will administer an anti-convulsion medication to stop it. Toxicity from rattlebox is an extremely serious condition. There is no antidote so the only thing your veterinarian can do is offer comfort for your horse.

All rattlebox species have two things in common: yellow flowers and a pea-pod fruit that rattles when ripe. Smooth rattlebox is an upright plant with leaflets of three, and produces a large, dense spike of showy flowers at the end of the stem. The plant itself can grow to nine feet tall. By contrast, Florida natives low rattlebox and rabbit bells are ground-huggers, and their flowers are less showy.

Smooth rattlebox is found throughout Florida, but more from the central Peninsula southward to the Keys. It's also found throughout the southeastern United States. Smooth rattlebox has become naturalized in warmer places around the globe, including parts of Asia and South America. It is upright, tall, with a long flower spike atop the stem. The flowers are yellow, sometimes with some red striping mixed in, and appear year-round. It has compound leaves, each with three large, oval-shaped leaflets. It has pea-like pods about an inch-and-a-half long and covered with fine hairs. Another Crotalaria species called shake-shake, has shaggy hair covering the pods.

Nonnative crotalaria species, including smooth rattlebox were exported around the globe as groundcovers and as a "green manure" crop because of their ability to improve soil nutrients. Ag experts still recommend one species, C juncea, AKA sunn hemp, for use by farmers. Crotalaria can take nitrogen from the air and with the aid of certain bacteria, fix it to the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers. Smooth rattlebox was especially popular in West Africa and Southeast Asia for use in large-scale agriculture. The problem with crotalaria is that they contain a group of chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are highly toxic to birds and mammals. What's worse, is the effect they have is time-delayed. Eat it and symptoms might not begin to show for weeks.

There is one species, however, that uses the plant's toxicity to its advantage, and that's the rattlebox moth, Uthetheisa ornatrix. Much like monarch butterflies use milkweeds to produce both color and poison, the rattlebox moth uses members of the crotalaria family. It's one of the few Florida moths that are showy.

At the same time, smooth rattlebox has been used for food and medicine in various places. The seeds are boiled for several hours, wrapped in banana leaves and left to ferment to remove the poisons. The resulting product is called dage. Roasted seeds are used to make "coffee," while the flowers are eaten as a vegetable. It's used medicinally to treat urinary problems, reduce fevers and inflammation. Scientists have found that smooth rattlebox has antibiotic, antifungal and antitumor properties.

Arkansas considers all crotalaria members to be noxious weeds, but crotalaria is not so listed in Florida. Some experts are keeping an eye on this plant to see how it develops. Part of the problem is those pods contain a lot of seeds, giving smooth rattlebox the ability to spread rapidly. Smooth rattlebox was first noticed at Jonathan Dickenson State Park in 1975. In 1992, a survey found it in a few disturbed sites. By 2010, it had taken over 60 percent of the cover along a 4.3-mile stretch of road within the park.

We know, what is a rattlebox? So, we like plants and growth. Our name is plant-based. A rattlebox is a common name for several plants in which the seed pods inflate, dry and, well, rattle. How can we help with your prosperity?

Figure 5. Adult ornate bella moth, Utetheisa ornatrix (Linnaeus), on fruit of lanceleaf rattlebox, Crotalaria lanceolata E. Mey. Photograph by Don Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Figure 7. Lanceleaf rattlebox, Crotalaria lanceolata E. Mey, in fruit. This plant is a host of the ornate bella moth, Utetheisa ornatrix (Linnaeus). Photograph by Don Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Figure 8. A flower spike of lanceleaf rattlebox, Crotalaria lanceolata E. Mey, with carpenter ants feeding at extrafloral nectaries. This plant is a host of the ornate bella moth, Utetheisa ornatrix (Linnaeus). Photograph by Don Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Figure 9. Smooth rattlebox, Crotalaria pallida Aiton var. obovata (G. Don) Pohill (formerly Crotalaria mucronata Desv.), with flowers and fruit. This plant is a host of the ornate bella moth, Utetheisa ornatrix (Linnaeus). Photograph by Don Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. 041b061a72


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