The Sansevieria, from the tropical regions of Africa, has broad, very firm, upright leaves of a dark green color with wavy stripes in a horizontal pattern that are a lighter green to yellow shade. Its size ranges from 2.5” – 3’ (6.35 cm – 1 m) in height and 2-3” (5 – 8 cm) in width. The leaves form a rosette and will have several rosettes per clump. The common name of snake plant is perhaps due to the striping. The sharp point to the leaves suggests another common name of mother-in-law’s tongue. They are very easy to care for and as a bonus are an excellent plant to remove toxins from indoor air.
Light and Temperature
Your Sansevieria will enjoy a bright east or west window any time of the year. You can place this plant in a north facing window as they are very forgiving but after several years the leaves may become spindly and not as firm as they should be. A southern exposure during the winter months would be fine but may need some filtering during the heat of summer depending upon where you live and how many sunny days you actually have. They can handle some direct sun. If using only artificial light provide at least 100 foot candles (1000 lumens). The more light you give it the more prominent the patterns will be and the more your plant will thrive.
They can tolerate a broad range of temperatures from 50° – 85° F (10° – 29.4° C). 65-70° F (18 – 21° C) at night and 75-85° F (23-26° C) during the day is perfect.
During spring and summer let the first 1 – 2” (2.5 – 5.8 cm) of soil dry to the touch. In winter let the pot dry out a lot. It may need watering only once each month. Do not water into the center of the leaves but keep to the sides of the pot, water until you see the water drain out the bottom and empty any standing water from the tray beneath. Bacteria and fungus can easily grow if over-watered.
Raising the humidity in our dry winter homes is not an issue for this amazing plant. It can easily handle the dry air of an office or a forced air furnace. Keep the air moving and the leaves dust free to keep pests at bay.
They do well in a loose sandy soil. 2 parts coarse sand, 1 part perlite or 1 more part sand, 1 part sphagnum peat and 1 part aged compost is a good mix.
Feed only once a year in the spring with a cactus fertilizer or you can fertilize once a month during the spring and summer months with a diluted cactus fertilizer if you feel it’s necessary. Do not fertilize in the winter. Do not fertilize newly potted plants for 3-4 months as the nutrients in the soil will be sufficient.
They may produce a small, fragrant, greenish white flower growing to a red or orange berry. Once the Sansevieria flowers it will not produce any more leaves but will not die as plants of the Agave family. It will still produce plantlets by rhizomes.
Pests and Problems
Although Sansevieria are not very susceptible to insects they can get a few such as mealy bugs, spider mites, and vine weevil grubs in the soil if grown in the ground outside. The warmer and drier the air the more pest issues you may encourage.
If you have mealy bugs you can begin the control with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol and wipe them off. In an extreme case you can take your plant outside, remove it from the pot, spray leaves – directing water from bottom to top -with a relatively strong stream of water and also gently remove the dirt from the roots. Let your plant hang upside-down overnight to drain water from the center of the leaves and re-pot into fresh soil the following day. You can also use a systemic insecticide if necessary to get the eggs that may hatch from crevasses you were unable to reach with the force of the water.
To get control of spider mites you can put your plant into the shower and give it a gentle rain of water to wash the insects off. Isolate your plant from other plants in your home and mist every 5-7 days with a mild soapy water until you are satisfied they are gone. Never let the crown of the rosette remain wet. After a shower be sure to put your plant near a draft or fan and not in direct sun so it will dry off as quickly as possible.
A whitish, water soaked area on leaves is evidence of severe cold damage. Below 45° for an extended period of time will do damage. You may have to remove any leaves in this state.
Re-pot when roots begin to stress the pot. You may not need to re-pot for 3-5 years. They grow quickly and can crack a terracotta pot. Water your plant the day before if you also intend to divide it at re-potting time. This will arm the roots with the water they need for the trauma of being teased apart. With your fingers or water gently remove old soil from the roots, let air dry a bit, re-pot in fresh medium to refresh the nutrients your plant needs to grow vibrantly. Always use a clean pot, put medium in bottom 3rd, hold plant roots over this dirt and sprinkle more medium, gently firming as you go, to the same depth the plant was before. Water thoroughly.
It will spread by rhizomes found either over or under the soil surface. Separate these spikes that pop up and plant independently as described on the Peace Lily Care page. They will grow rapidly once accustomed to the new pot.
You can also propagate by cuttings. Water your plant the day before so the leaf you cut will be well hydrated. Cut off a leaf at soil level with a very clean, sharp knife. Be certain you’ll remember the top and the bottom of the leaf as you must plant your cuttings the right way up! Very cleanly, cut this leaf into several 2” (5 cm) pieces. Ragged edges do not root as easily. Let these pieces dry overnight. Put 2-3 pieces into a clean pot filled with a sandy medium described above by making slits in the soil that you can just slide your cutting into – the right way up! Lightly water and place in a warm location.
Keep dust off the broad leaves so your plant can “breathe”.
The Sansevieria is one of the best air purifiers and will remove toxins from indoor air such as formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. As transpiration takes place at night it is an excellent plant to put in a bedroom.
The roots do not go deep so the Sansevieria looks great in a wide, shallow dish. A wide and/or heavy container will help stabilize this somewhat top heavy plant.
In Africa it is used in fiber production (also to protect against evil or bewitchment). The leaves have antiseptic properties and are used for bandages. In Nigeria it is linked with the deity of war and used in rituals to remove the evil eye. In Brazil it is known as the sword of Saint George who is associated with Ogoun, the Yoruba deity of war.
The fibers are very strong and have been used as string for a bow.
This plant is so adaptable that it can actually be converted to hydroculture and will form water roots rather quickly.
Sansevieria trifasciata Bantel’s sensation has leaves that alternate dark green and white wavy bands.
Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii has leaves with a bright yellow edge (pictured above). The best propagation method for laurentii is by division. Plants from cuttings of the variety laurentii may lose the color variations as there is no chlorophyll in the yellow sections and will not take root.
Sansevieria trifasciata future has a shorter, wider leaf than Bantel’s sensation or laurentii and more leaves per rosette.
Sansevieria trifasciata hahini is 4” (10 cm) tall and the foliage is similar to the leaves of a pineapple.