African Spear—How to Grow Sansevieria Cylindrica

Sansevieria ​Cylindrical
Wikimedia Commons / CC By 3.0

I first saw these interesting plants at a trade show, where they won an award for the most unusual new plant. Truth is, Sansevieria cylindrical is only new to the United States. People in the United Kingdom and Australia have been growing them for some time. Sometimes called the African spear plant, the Sansevieria cylindrica offers all the ease and durability of the popular snake plant and the appeal of lucky bamboo.

The plant consists of stout, cylindrical spears that spring from the sandy soil. They can be braided or left in their natural fan shape. Best of all, they can be almost entirely ignored and still thrive.

Growing Conditions

Light: Indoor plants prefer bright, filtered light, but the plants are highly light-tolerant. Outdoors, Sansevieria grows well in shaded or partially shaded areas.

Water: The plant can survive long periods of drought. Water it monthly or less in winter; water it weekly or every other week in summer.

Temperature: Temperatures above 50 degrees F are best, but it can survive cold spells. Generally, they do best in temperatures that are comfortable to humans: above 50 and below 85 degrees F.

Soil: Fast-draining cactus mix is preferred.

Fertilizer: Feed the plant during growing season. Do not feed it during winter.

Propagation

Sansevieria grow with rhizomes. African spears can be divided when several spears are present.

Whole plants can be propagated by cutting the rhizome close to the plant's leaves, letting the cut heal over for a couple of days, then burying the plant in a cactus mix or similar potting soil. Covering just the crown of the plant; do not cover the leaves.

Repotting

Repot annually or every other year in the spring.

They will survive being root bound. Because Sansevieria grows via rhizomes, they can easily crowd a pot indoors. Referring to this, some growers say you should repot the plant when the pot breaks, indicating that the rhizomes have run out of room. Keep in mind that this rule of thumb typically applies to plastic pots, although Sansevieria has been known to break clay pots.

Varieties

The basic species is Sansevieria cylindrica, although there are a few varieties available, and some growers have experimented with braiding or shaping the basic plant. Spear-like Sansevieria may be lightly banded or solid colored, ranging in size from 12 inches to 24 inches. All species are equally hardy.

Grower's Tips

These are almost foolproof plants. They can survive long periods of drought, haphazard feeding, and being root bound. Similarly, they can be acclimated to deep shade or bright light. Truly, they thrive on neglect. One exception to this rule: their pots must be well-drained. As with most succulents, their roots cannot be allowed to sit in water or they will begin to rot. Knowing this, growers commonly make the mistake of under-watering or watering a small amount too frequently. The result of frequent, less-than-full watering is that the roots die off near the bottom of the pot, leaving short roots above.

The best method is to water the pot fully and let it dry down before watering again.

Sansevieria make great desktop plants for people who want something other than lucky bamboo. The plants also can bear small flower spikes arising from the base of the spears.