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Sansevieria (Snake Plant / Mother-in-Law's Tongue)

About the Snake Plant

Sansevieria or the Mother-in-Law's Tongue / Snake Plant as it's commonly known is a truly remarkable and striking easy care houseplant.

The Snake Plants are an ever increasingly popular house guest and much of this has to do with its near indestructible qualities. However this plant is also desired for its upright and erect leaf habit which fits into almost all locations in the home from both traditional to modern decor.

A Sansevieria collection showing the number of different varieties you can buy

A small collection of the different varieties you can buy

It belongs to the family Asparagaceae, native to the tropics of West Africa. A lot of people believe the name comes from "Sand Snake", with its cacti like properties and appearance of a rising snake it's not hard to see why. However, the plant genus was actually named in 1794 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg after Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771), Prince of San Seviero.

As a result of modern day improvements with DNA studies, in 2017 the plant was officially removed from the Sansevieria genus and moved into the Dracaena genus. This was the result of botanists discovering a high number of common genes between the plants.

Sansevieria Vs Dracaena
As of 2021, we've decided to continue the use of "Sansevieria" on our website. Simply because the name is still being heavily used in informal settings and therefore it's much more familiar to our visitors.

For many fans of this plant, the change in genus was a shock - even to us. Visually the similarities to the better known plants within the Dracaena genus (think the Dragon Tree or the Corn Plant) are remote at best.

So there has been a fairly slow uptake in using the new name in more casual and informal settings. Ultimately however the truly recognised genus within science is Dracaena, so expect this name to become more used in years to come.

It's bold and clutter-free lines make it very popular and one of the plants of choice for architecture and interior design, especially because of its reputation as an improver of indoor air quality.

It's an ever increasingly popular indoor plant and much of this has to do with its near indestructible qualities

The different varieties of Snake Plant

There are a huge number of different Sansevieria's varieties out there which you may be able to get your hands on (and if you get the chance you really should). Some are easy to find, others less so.

This is only a small section as there are over 70 (and counting) different types available. Below are some of our favorites which also seem to be the most popular and therefore some of the more common varieties you'll come across.

Trifasciata laurentii or "Mother-in-Law's Tongue"

This is the most famous and easily recognised of all the Sansevierias. Traditionally it was used as a striking background for smaller plants with flowers or ferny foliage. The modern trend in the average home is to keep the plant separate from others and have it standing bold and alone.

S. trifasciata laurentii - Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Snake Plant - Trifasciata Laurentii

On occasion, in larger areas it's used in mass to create a fence or hedge like effect, this is often seen in public places like restaurants, malls/shopping arcades and coffee shops. Larger homes or offices might also adopt elements of this style as a way to divide sections of the space.

Trifasciata means "three bundles" and this can be seen in the leaf markings of these plants. The Laurentii cultivar has leaves that are edged on both sides with solid lines of vertical yellow, in the center, there are normally two different shades of horizontal zig-zag green stripes.

Bantels Sensation is similar to the Trifasciata laurentii as it has all the same colours, but it's different as the stripes are vertical instead of going across the plant. It's a funky and stylish twist on the traditional take. Still quite new, so it might take a bit of searching to find it.

Trifasciata or "The All Green Snakeskin Plant"

This variety is actually the same as Laurentii without the Laurentii! This means you are left with a plant without any of the yellow edges.

S. trifasciata - the all green snake skin plant

Even the "all-green" Snake Skin plant still has attractive markings

This might make it less desirable and of interest to look at, but it still has the upright and hardy attitude of its cousin and the attractive horizontal green stripes. If you want to go even darker, then look for Trifasciata "Black Coral" which has grey, almost black hues in places.

While all Sansevieria are accommodating with wherever you put it, the Laurentii yellow will fade somewhat if you put it in heavy darkness. As Trifasciata has no yellow edges to lose it's therefore even more tolerant of shady conditions. If you take leaf cuttings of Trifasciata laurentii it will normally revert to this all green Trifasciata, i.e. the yellow edges are completely lost.

Cylindrica or "African Spear"

Again Cylindrica has very upright and strong green leaves. The leaves, as you may be able to guess by it's name, are cylindrical in shape and are incredibly tough.

Interesting Fact
The leaves on this variety are so tough and ridged, it's not actually possible to bend the leaves once they've matured without snapping them.

The newer growth is pretty flexible though and will also bend strongly towards light sources if grown in a dark place, but once mature they're much thicker and strongly anchored into their pots. This gives incredible strength to the plant and resists damage so it could make for a great plant in an area with a lot of footfall.

This unusual style alone is enough for some people, but its natural inclination to bend towards the light when the new flexible growth forms is exploited by nurseries, the picture on the right below shows you how.

As the plant has grown, the leaves have been plaited together. Six of the fleshy leaves have been used to create this plait, you can also find more complex and larger designs although they will obviously cost more.

S. cylindrica - Spear Sansevieria

Cylindrica or African Spear can be grown in unusual shapes very effectively

Some people argue this trick is a fad. They might be right, but it's still a very unique fad you have to agree. The drawback is that just before they are shipped from the nursery to the shop for you to buy, the top tips are often "knocked" or picked off.

The majority of plants have a hormone that is produced in the top of the main stem, this hormone encourages upward growth through that particular individual leaf. When the top has been removed no more hormone and therefore no more upward growing, this results in growth from the side shoots lower down the plant. Cylindrica has no side shoots so it starts producing new leaves directly from the soil.

So eventually your beautifully sculptured plait will look out of place surrounded by untrained natural growth. On the plus side, like all Sansevieria, Cylindrica is slow growing so you'll still have your architectural design for quite a while.

Trifasciata Hahnii or "Golden Bird's Nest"

After all the attention grabbing and elegance of the previous three Sansevieria varieties, Hahnii is perhaps quite basic looking. Whilst like its cousins in the hardy and interesting to look at stakes, it has much less curb appeal.

S. Golden hahnii

Trifasciata Hahnii - Perhaps the smallest of all Sansevieria plants

The reason for this lack of popularity is down to the fact that it doesn't grow very high or wide and is simply dwarfed by it's more vibrant and bigger cousins.

Don't write it off though, because it's brilliant if you don't have a great deal of space but enjoy the cacti like appearance with the unusual variegation found on the Laurentii. It also comes in a Trifasciata form (so all the marbled greens but none of the yellow edges). This is the perfect plant for those tight awkward places or even to fill a space on a windowsill.

If this compact look appears to you, check out Hahnii Black Dragon. No variegation at all, just pure dark green. New leaves are a jade colour but darken overtime. It's not eye-catching, but I've found it grows very fast and quickly fills a pot.

Fernwood and Fernwood Mikado

Fernwood and Fernwood Mikado are two similar looking plants that are fairly modern hybrids but they've appealed to buyers and are fast becoming popular Sansevieria varieties. Not growing anywhere near as large as their more famous cousins, they maintain a dainty and slender appearance.

The leaves on both are fairly thin and nowhere near as thick or tough as those found on the Cylindrica (African Spear). The leaves on the Fernwood are normally concave shaped and form in dense clumps, often with many leaves per stem that create an arching and full looking appearance.

We used several Mikado plants as the focus of our living plant wall in a windowless hallway. Check out the link for more.

The Mikado leaves are usually fully cylindrical and also form in clumps but in a much sparser way. They also only have single leafed stems, so a full pot will look much less loaded and perhaps more elegant than the Fernwood.

Of the two the Mikado is usually the smaller and takes up less space. Both varieties grow slowly and have similar mottled green markings. They're both also very tolerant of low light conditions.

Sansevieria Fernwood growing in a silver plant pot

Sansevieria Fernwood growing in a silver plant pot

Victoria or "Whale Fin" / "Sharkfin"

We really love most Sansevieria plants as they share common traits in terms of easy care needs and most brought for the home have an architectural look that just makes them striking and attention grabbing. But the Victoria took it to another level.

Often sold as a thin but very large sole single leaf stem it's just gorgeous and unique. The common names are easy to see as the shape of the leaf is that of a Whale or Sharkfin. They tend to have the common mottled green familiar on most Sansevieria's, mature plants or those grown in lower light conditions tend to be darker. The edges will normally have a very thin red or orange outline.

Masoniana Victoria AKA the Whale Fin or Shark Fin Snake Plant

Masoniana Victoria AKA the Whale Fin or Shark Fin Snake Plant

Over time it's common for a new leaf to grow from beneath the soil which gradually unfolds and will join the existing leaf. Ours in the picture above produced its first "baby" or offset after about 6 months.

The Victoria variety can be painfully expensive to buy as their rarity in most garden centers means they command a premium from online sellers. However if you really love the look of this one don't be put off by the price.

The Victoria variety can be eye wateringly expensive

Like all Sansevieria, the Whale Fin plant shares the easy going nature of its cousins so this should be a difficult to kill houseplant, making your investment worthwhile. Just follow the care instructions later in our article to increase the chances of yours living to a good old age.

Sansiam Shabiki

This is another fairly new Sansevieria being more frequently sold. It has the strong thick stems of the Cylindrica and the growth habit of the Fernwood with stems growing in random directions to create a very pointed (literally) talking point.

Sansiam Shabiki

Sansiam Shabiki has stems that fan out and grow in random directions

You can grow just one offset by itself to create a living piece of art or have several growing in the same pot as shown above to create a cluster of activity. Both have their places and further adds to the charm of the plant. Growth is pretty slow but as with all the other varieties it's tough going and will put up with substandard care with very few complaints.

If you like this "starfish" look, there is also another one you might want to try called Sansevieria boncellensis. It's very compact and has less reach than the Sansiam Sharbiki, but it's cute and perfect if you want a dainty but sturdy one for your collection.

Moonshine

Another fairly new variety in the shops, the Moonshine brings us full circle and back to the more traditional looking Snake Plants with the upright, long and broad leaves, growing in packed clusters.

The main difference here is the leaf color has a "moonshine" appearance dropping the usual green mottled and marbled effect, and giving us an almost flat and solid light silvery green coloring. Faint bands normally exist on the leaves and the edges are outlined in a darker green to highlight the main leaf color.

Sansevieria 'Moonshine'

Sansevieria 'Moonshine'

One drawback. The Moonshine variety is not tolerant of very low light conditions. Oh it will survive perfectly fine in such places don't worry about that, but it will quickly lose the washed out and beautiful light coloring in the leaves. The plant in the picture above has been grown in low light conditions for around 3 months and has darkened a little. However when we first brought it, it was much lighter.

There is a photo in the repotting section further below which was taken shortly after we brought it. You can clearly see how the colors have changed during that time.

Black Diamond

This one has been around for a few years in shops, it's very easy to pass by though, as it's not eye-catching with color or shape like many of the others on offer.

Sansevieria 'Black Diamond'

Sansevieria 'Black Diamond' (Sometimes sold as 'Black Dragon')

The edges have very thin lines of yellow and although it has very slight variegation all these markings are rich dark tones that give this one a Gothic and broody edge. It's got the darkest leaves of all Sans, and in the right pot or room this will draw wandering eyes. The dark just pops out in the right setting.

Like the rest, it's both sturdy and imposing. It will also put up with lower light levels, some really quite dark places actually (at the expense of new growth).

We mentioned at the start of the section above that there are lots of varieties available and this is so true. We've just covered a small handful, but we'll keep adding in new ones as they become more popular. If you have a different one and want to show it off send us your photos or leave a comment at the end of the article.

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Sansevieria Photos

Snake Plant Care Guide

Light

All Snake Plants would prefer bright light with at least some direct sun for several hours a day. However, they'll still produce growth in a position with less light (although a little bit slower) as long as it's not deep shade.

Tip - Plants grown in a dark location should not suddenly be moved into intense sunlight as this could scorch the leaves. Get it used to the brighter location by putting it there for short periods each day and do this over a few weeks.

One of the major advantages of this plant is that even deep shade can be tolerated for several years (yes, years!). Providing you're happy to accept you may not see any new growth at all and that you take care not to overwater your plant.

Overwatering is much easier to do than you might think, so be extra careful and only water once or twice a month at the very most.

Finally, most plants grown in low light will lose some of the colorful markings and will gradually start to revert to darker greens. You need to provide good light to maintain these markings.

Watering

Water moderately from Spring to Autumn/Fall, significantly less in the Winter months because it won't need as much water then. By cutting back on the water you will reduce the possibility of your Snake Plant rotting from being overwatered, which is the most common problem people experience with these plants.

Further reading -
Are you overwatering your plants? - The Signs to look out for

They're very drought tolerant and can put up with months of no water, but will quickly suffer if allowed to sit in sodden and permanently damp conditions. Water needs will vary between plants, but as a basic rule we typically water most of our plants once every two weeks. In very warm temperatures this increases to once a week. Less in Winter when it's cooler.

Humidity

The level of humidity in your home is unimportant for all varieties of Sansevieria. They'll put up with anything.

Feeding

In general we've not found these plants to be overly big feeders. So when it comes to feeding a standard cactus or all-purpose fertiliser during the Summer months is perfect. Careful not to overdo it though and make sure you read the instructions on the packet. We use both the Miracle Grow and Baby Bio brands on most of our houseplants including our Snake Plants.

Houseplant Feed for sale on Amazon.com

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Houseplant Feed for sale on Amazon.com

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Temperature

Even though these are crazy tough and hardy plants they'll struggle with very cold Winter temperatures. If the soil is dry it will survive without issue down to 5°C (41°F). Wet soils at this temperature drastically increase the chances of leaves rotting away so be careful.

To get a good level of new growth and to ensure your plant is happy, it will need temperatures between 18°C (65°F) - 27°C (80°F).

Repotting

Don't be in a hurry to keep upsizing your plant, they still do surprisingly well with not a huge amount of space around the roots. Additionally, due to their upright growth habit, the plants normally look best in a smaller narrow pot. Finally if you decide you want flowers on your Snake Plant (see below) it will need to be fairly pot bound to produce them.

However like all houseplants there will come a point when the soil medium has completely broken down or the plant has no room to produce new growth. At this point, it's time to break your plant out of it's pot and move it into something bigger.

Repotting a Snake Plant

Repotting a Snake Plant

Continuing with the easy going theme, Snake Plants will grow in a wide variety of soils without any issue. Our recommendation is to go for an open and free draining mix. Normal garden compost you can buy from shops is fine, peat free is usually the best as it has lots of materials to help keep it "open" You can also use a mix designed for cacti or succulents.

Tip - You can repot all Sansevieria plants any time of the year (except in freezing temperatures). And the reason for this is because? You guessed it - they're not fussy!

If you feel the soil is still quite dense you can add grit or perlite to open it up. The key here is to avoid the roots being surrounded by too much water which can trigger rotting.

A free draining and open mix will mean the roots have good access to water when needed but not so much, that the roots are drowned.

Propagation

Who wouldn't want more of these wonderful houseplants? The good news is you can propagate and create more plants quite easily when you repot by dividing the plants. Just pull the clumps apart and pot up into their own individual containers.

If you'd rather not lose the "bulk" look of your plant you can remove the rhizome offsets at the base of the plant that you'll probably see when you take it out of its pot (the photo in the above section shows two newish offsets that can be carefully pulled away along with some of their roots and grown as separate plants). If the offset has no roots, let it dry for a day or two before pushing into a good drainage potting compost mix and new roots should form around the base over a few weeks or months.

You may also have luck with leaf cuttings: Cut 2 - 3 inches from a mature leaf and after waiting a day for the edges to dry, push the cuttings about 1 inch into a compost mix (you must plant it the right way up i.e. matching the direction of original growth. So be sure to mark which way is up when creating the cuttings).

Propagating the Mother in Law Tongue through leaf cuttings

Propagating the Mother in Law Tongue through leaf cuttings

Be warned that if you try and propagate some plants with fancy markings such as the Laurentii using leaf cuttings you will almost certainly lose the yellow edges as it will revert back to the original all green Trifasciata variety. If you want to maintain the markings and colorings you can only propagate by dividing or removing offsets.

Speed of Growth

All varieties of Snake Plants grow slowly compared to other houseplants. This can be a drawback if you want a large one to screen an area immediately, or if you want yours to fill its pot quickly. If a big plant is what you're looking for, go large at the time of purchase time.

Height / Spread

Some varieties like the Cylindrica, although rare, have the potential to reach 5ft after many years. Hahnii in comparison will only reach a lowly 4 in. high. Most of the others will fall somewhere in between Laurenti, Trifasciata and "Moonshine" can get to 3ft or more, although this is quite unusual and the normal expected height is between 1ft and 2ft.

Sometimes it's not about the height though and having a fuller wider plant is the goal. If this is what you're looking for you can simply remove the very tops of the growing leaf when its reached your ideal height. This then encourages offsets to form at the base which in time will bulk out the plant. Bear in mind if you do cut off the growing tips, that particular leaf will never grow taller.

Flowers

Most indoor Sansevieria plants have the potential to flower indoors, this is much more common with the Ttrifasciata and Laurentii. When a plant reaches maturity and starts to flower it's common to see it happening each year. Normally in Summer, you'll notice a very fast growing stem coming out from the heart of the plant.

They're attempting to attract moths for pollination, so during the evening and over night they smell strongly of something similar to Ylang Ylang. During daylight hours the smell is musky and not very pleasant, you may also notice sticky nectar dropping onto or around the plant which has a resin like quality (there is a close up picture of the resin in the gallery above).

S. trifasciata laurentii i.e. Mother in Law Tongue's in flower

Snake Plant in full bloom showing off its flowers

Getting your Sans to flower can be tricky, in our experience, you only get the flowers when you're "cruel". The plant needs to be so pot bound that there is literally no space for new shoots to emerge out of the soil (this may happen naturally in the center of a congested plant that isn't fully pot bound yet).

You also need to nick the top off some of the leaves which prevents it from growing upwards. With absolutely nowhere left to grow you might get the plant trying to propagate itself by seed, i.e. through the elusive flowers.

Is the Snake Plant Poisonous?

If it's eaten, the Snake Plant will bite back. The plant contains saponins which usually irritate and can cause gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This will affect most pets such as cats and dogs and also humans. Take care if your pets are known to nibble on your indoor plants.

Anything else?

If you've read this far you already know that this is a fantastic hardy houseplant that will cope with masses of different conditions and treatment without fuss or major complaining on the way. We've told you the ideal growing conditions, and also highlighted where you can get away with things.

However poor treatment over prolonged periods often means your plant will not reach its full potential and therefore will never look as good as it could do. If you want it to perform at its best you do need to treat it right and try to give the ideal growing conditions.


How to Care for a Sansevieria Recap

  1. Any Light Will cope with full sun as well as low light and dank locations. For best results aim for the middle ground with bright indirect light.

  2. Moderate to Low Watering Once or twice every fortnight in Summer and once every three or four weeks in Winter.

  3. Temperature Average indoor room temperatures. 18°C (65°F) - 27°C (80°F)

  4. Feeding Try to fertilise at least once a month during Spring and Summer.

  • You must not overwater your Snake Plant
  • It won't tolerate very cold temperatures

Snake Plant Problems

Sansevieria has only two weaknesses, excessive cold, and excessive watering, everything else you throw its way will be taken in its stride and is therefore an almost impossible to kill houseplant.

One year my brother left his in a hot south-facing window all Spring and part of Summer without watering it once (four months in total). Some of the leaves went very pale and one died completely, but the plant slowly recovered as soon as conditions became more favorable.

Rot at the base / Leaves are yellow and dying back

Likely basal rot disease. If you can pull out entire leaves with very little effort and the bottoms are basically mush, this is what you're dealing with.

It typically happens in Winter from being watered too much, but realistically can happen at any time of the year, especially if you're growing your plant in very low light locations. Remember in Winter and in darker spots you should be watering very infrequently.

There is no treatment, but if only part of the plant has been affected you can simply cut the rot out. If all leaves around the bottom have it, the plant can't be saved. You might like to try taking leaf cuttings from the leaves above the rot and try propagating replacements.

Further reading -
How can you tell if you're overwatering your houseplants?

Rot at the base (not overwatered)

If you definitely know you've not overwatered your plant then the rotting has likely been caused by cold damage. 5°C (41°F) is the lowest safe temperature, as you get lower than this the risk of serious damage increases. In the grand scheme of things this is rare and only likely to happen to plants accidentally left outside as Winter has crept in.

Wrinkled Leaves

Most of these plants can deal with very limited water for quite a while. But they can't survive a long term drought. Wrinkled leaves are usually the first sign from your plant that it's thirsty and wants a drink.

Leaves falling sideways or bending over

This could be another sign of underwatering, but with the taller types this is fairly common with indoor plants. The leaves can get pretty tall and at times they become top heavy and will bend or fall sideways. This also seems more common in larger wide clusters for some reason, almost like the plant wants to spread out.

Whenever this happens, to support the plant, we tend to loosely wrap some string around the bottom third of the leaves which helps to keep things orderly and the cluster more upright. Make sure you don't pull or wrap the string too tightly.

Brown blotches on the leaves

Random blotches on the leaves might just be sun scorch, for example if the plant has been in a very dark place for a long time and you suddenly put it outside in the baking midday sun.

However if the blotches appear on the tips of the leaves and work their way down then it is something much worse; the cause of this disorder is unknown and there is no cure. Fortunately, it's very rare and none of the Ourhouseplants team have ever seen it in real life.

Our Story with this plant

Most houseplant owners and collectors will have their go-to plants. The ones they know that will perform and not create too much fuss, the one you know that whilst perhaps a bit expensive initially, will be well worth the investment in the end. For me, this is the Sansevieria, or Sans as I call my growing collection.

My second longest owned houseplant is a Trifasciata Laurentii, it started small, grew big, really big actually and filled many a pot over the years. It was so full and beautiful and very attractive.

They don't have the "Practically Indestructible" tag for nothing

Then a small accident happened with some overwatering and cold temperatures. It lost many leaves and a huge amount of its attraction in the process. A huge mistake that cost the plant dearly, and yeah okay, I'm owning that and half trying to bring it back to it's formal glory. It's not going too well - for the last four years it's been flanking the doorway of my kitchen in pretty gloomy lighting, but it's still alive and kicking!

Over the years I've acquired all the varieties talked about in this article, and actually only ever lost one. I can't remember having to deal with any pests or any serious problems in over 20 years. The versatility means they can be put in places other houseplants won't accept. I've even used them to create a living wall in a dark hallway.

Houseplant Display Wall using Snake Plants in white pots

Houseplant Display Wall using Snake Plants (Fernwood Mikado) in white pots

Trifasciata Laurentii was popular in the 70's but then fell out of favor as being old fashioned in a big way. People would refuse to buy them and likened them to avocado bathroom suites, also from that era. This is frankly ridiculous (the plants I mean, those suites were plain nasty) as they're so easy going and make brilliant indoor plants.

So I was very pleased about five years ago or so when different Sansevieria varieties and cultivars started to appear in shops and before I knew it, there was a huge amount of choice and options available. We've covered a number of these earlier in the article, but even this is a just small list of what you might come across.

This is truly one houseplant that has endured through the hard times as it fell from fame and has since come roaring back with more popularity than ever before (#SansevieriaSunday anyone?). On reflection, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, after all, they don't have the "Practically Indestructible" tag for nothing.



About the Author

Tom Knight

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years, Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the .

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