snake plant

Snake Plant (Sansevieria): Types, How to Grow and Care

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Snake plants may not be new in the houseplant scene but what makes them tick is their ability to bring lasting beauty indoors. Their vertical growth and sculptural foliage create a bold but inviting statement in any space and many growers find it easy to keep them since they do not ask a lot.

Growing snake plants indoors, especially with the new and exciting varieties today is always a smart choice.

Snake Plant Origin and Plant Classification

Sansevieria is the genus of about 60 plants belonging to the Agave family. S. trifasciata, the most common of the genus, is a successful indoor plant (1). 

It is characterized by the sword-like thick leaves, often with scale-looking patterns of yellow and green or green and silver, gathered as a clump at the base of the plant just like most agaves.

Because of the variegation of the long leaves, the plant is commonly referred to as snake plant. It also goes by the names “mother-in-law’s tongue” and viper’s bowstring hemp.

Other names include dracaena trifasciata, sansevieria trifasciata, Saint George’s sword, good luck plant, bowstring hemp, African bowstring hemp, and snakeplant.

A native of Brazil and Africa, snake plant is considered a succulent and prefers open and bright, warm areas. Each leaf can reach a height of 50 cm (20 in) and although rare for those grown indoors, snake plants produce long flower stalks covered in fragrant small creamy white buds and lily-like flowers.

The plant has an indoor lifespan of up to 10 years, depending on maintenance (2).

sansevieria plant

Uses of Snake Plant

Most popularly known as an indoor foliage plant, the snake plant in planters and pots and the smaller varieties are used in dish gardens and terrariums (1). 

The plant is a known air purifier, eliminating nitrogen oxides and formaldehydes from the indoor atmosphere (3). 

In coastal areas and subtropical locations, sansevierias are mass planted for outdoor installation too. Just as the common name “viper’s bowstring hemp” suggests, this plant is a source of fiber that is used in making bowstrings. The leaves also have antiseptic properties that they were traditionally used as bandages to dress wounds.

Despite their industrial and medicinal uses throughout history, snake plants are reported to have toxic substances too like hemolytic saponin which can cause excessive salivation when ingested and allergic dermatitis when plant juices come in contact with specific types of skin (4).


How to Grow and Care for Sansevieria

snake plant care

Light and Water

Snake plants are highly versatile and can practically grow anywhere from full sunlight to poorly-lit areas (5). But ideally, they should be grown under moderate to bright light. 

Like many plants with leaf variegation, the color intensifies when they receive enough exposure to sunlight. However, those grown in heavily shaded spaces have slow growth and elongated, weaker leaves (1).

Outdoors and in fields, sansevierias require ample amounts of water and less when grown under structures, but they are known to be drought tolerant too. With a well-draining soil, they should be thoroughly watered once a week. 

Overwatering causes the leaves to droop while too little water dries out the leaves and makes them look wrinkled (3).

Temperature and Humidity

Since they originated from areas with humid and warm climates, 70-90 °F is the optimum temperature for the snake plants to grow best (1). Temperatures should not be allowed to go below 45°F or the plant will turn mushy and die.

Pest and Diseases

Insects like caterpillars and thrips are common in snake plants. Caterpillars feed on the leaves leaving holes in the center or edges of the leaves. Leaves infested by thrips become curled and distorted. Although not very serious during early stages, these pests should be eradicated by application of mild systemic insecticides (1).

Sansevierias are also vulnerable to leaf spot, blight, and rot. These can be prevented by application of recommended pesticide but safety measures should also be practiced to prevent spread of diseases like sanitation of gardening tools. Keeping the foliage dry does not only prevent water and dust marks on the leaves but also avoid development of bacterial and fungal infections (1).

Propagation and Maintenance

Snake plants can be propagated by seeds but since it takes time, growers produce new plants by cutting and division instead (5). Several cuttings can be obtained from one leaf and then inserted into the growing medium.

Plants that have overgrown their containers can be divided, keeping the roots intact, and planted into individual pots. It takes about 3 to 5 weeks for the plants to establish roots and grow new leaves.

Fertilizer application once every 3 months will help keep the leaves vibrant and promote new growth. Over time, the pot will become congested with emerging rhizomes and new plants so repotting is ideal every 2 to 3 years (2).

Since the leaves are the crowning glory of this plant, they should be maintained by wiping off accumulated dust and dirt. Neem oil spray also provides a natural gloss to the leaves as well as protection from pests.


Best Varieties and Species of Snake Plant To Grow

Dracaena trifasciata

S. trifasciata ‘MoonShine’

This attractive snake plant has broad long and wide leaves in silvery-green color accentuated by thin dark green margins and light bands. The plant works perfectly in both dark and light colored pots for indoor setup.

S. trifasciata ‘Laurentii’

The most recognizable snake plant, this variety exhibits sword leaves in alternating bands of light and dark green with yellow margins.

S. trifasciata ‘Golden Hahnii’

This variety looks just like ‘Laurentii’ except that the leaves are shorter and the yellow margin is thicker and runs throughout the underside of the leaves.

S. trifasciata ‘Black Robusta’

Another striking new addition, this snake plant boasts dark green, almost black glossy leaves. Upon closer inspection, light green bands cover both sides of the leaves.

S. kirkii ‘Coppertone’

A relatively new and rare cultivar, this snake plant has striking shiny copper-colored wide leaves with green bands. The leaves are curled on the edges and are gathered in a rosette form.

S. rorida

Reported as the most expensive snake plant of 2019, this slow-growing plant has fan-shaped downward-curving stubby leaves growing on top of one another. The leaves are green and unlike most snake plants, the dark bands are thin and parallel to the midrib.

S. patens

A unique succulent type of snake plant, it has stubby pointed dark green leaves initially arranged in a rosette form and then arch in different directions as the plant matures.

S. cylindrica

The long tubular leaves in different shades of green fan out from the base of the plant. Outdoors they can grow up to 2m long but they look striking in pots with a manageable height of 30-40cm.

S. zeylanica

The original ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’, this plant has long sword-like leaves with alternating irregular bands of dark and light shades of green.

Other sansevierias species and cultivars to consider include:

  • S. trifasciata ‘Hahnii Streaker’
  • S. trifasciata ‘Twisted Sister’
  • S. trifasciata ‘Black Gold’
  • S. trifasciata ‘Whitney’
  • S. pinguicula
  • S. sordida

For more plants to grow, see our list of plants for indoor.

References

Reference List

(1) Henley, R. et. al. “Sansevieria Production Guide”. 1991. University of Florida, IFAS. Retrieved from https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/sansevie.htm.

(2) Squire, D. “Houseplant Handbook”. 2017. I5 Publishing LLC. P. 273.

(3) Osterhoudt, M. “Keeping it Real-Health Benefits of Indoor Plants, Which to Get and How to Take Care for Them”. 2013. Lulu Press Inc. P. 8.

(4) Spoerke, S. “Toxicity of Houseplants”. 1990. CRC Press. P. 256.

(5) Odenwald, N. & Turner, J. “Identification, Selection, and Use of Southern Plants: For Landscape Design”. 2006. Claitor’s Law Books and Publishing. P. 720.

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