Sansevieria trifasciata (also known as snake plant or mother-in-law's tongue) is one of the most popular and hardy species of houseplants. It features stiff leaves that range from six inches to eight feet tall, depending on the variety. Snake plants vary in color but usually have green banded leaves and commonly feature a yellow border. These plants are easy to grow and nearly indestructible; they will thrive in either very bright light or almost dark corners of the house. If repotting, do so in the spring.
Snake plants may even improve your health and well-being. They were first cultivated and kept as treasured houseplants in China because it was believed the eight gods bestowed their virtues (long life, prosperity, intelligence, beauty, art, poetry, health, and strength) upon those who grew the plant. In 1989 sansevieria was chosen by NASA for a study on how plants can be used for air purification and to combat "sick building syndrome." According to joint studies run by the University of Georgia and Yonsei University, snake plant has a demonstrated ability to remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
|Botanical Name||Sansevieria trifasciata|
|Common Name||Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue, viper's bowstring hemp, St. George's sword|
|Plant Type||Evergreen perennial in Zones 9 thru 11; a houseplant in colder zones|
|Mature Size||6 in. to 12 ft. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade, low light conditions|
|Soil Type||Fast-draining, sandier soil|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Spring (blooms are rare)|
|Hardiness Zones||9 through 11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Tropical West Africa|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs, toxic to cats, toxic to humans|
Watch Now: How to Take Care of a Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law's Tongue)
Snake Plant Care
Snake plant is ideal for beginner gardeners, as it is almost impossible to kill them. An ideal container plant, it is excellent in a grouping and will grow equally well on the floor or on tabletop displays. These plants are also drought resistant. There are two low-growing varieties, but these are rarely seen in garden centers.
Be careful not to overwater your snake plant, as this can lead to rotting. Make sure the soil is dry before watering again. They can even go two months between waterings in the winter months. In warmer months, water every 3-4 weeks. Snake plants thrive in warm weather and will struggle in very cold conditions.
Although they are very forgiving, snake plants prefer indirect but steady light with some direct sun. They can adapt to full sun conditions and will also survive quite dim situations.
Sansevieria plants prefer a loose, well-drained potting mix. This plant will do well in sandier soils. Pick a potting media low in peat, which eventually packs and refuses to re-hydrate or drain properly. An all-purpose cactus potting soil is a good choice.
Let the soil dry between waterings. During winter, reduce watering to monthly, or whenever the soil is dry to the touch. Err on the side of under-watering; too much water can kill the plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Sansevieria prefers warm conditions and will suffer if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the plant in a place where it will be protected from drafts. A temperature range between 70 and 90 degrees is best.
Feed with a mild cactus fertilizer during the growing season or a balanced liquid slow-release (10-10-10 fertilizer) diluted to half-strength. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Is Snake Plant Toxic?
Snake plant is moderately toxic to people, dogs, and cats. If they ingest the plant, humans may suffer short-term symptoms including mouth pain, salivation, and some nausea. In rare instances, it can produce a dermatological reaction but is mainly toxic only if ingested. In cats and dogs, ingestion can cause excessive salivation, pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Snake Plant Varieties
There are a number of different cultivars of this plant. Some do not grow very tall and others have a different coloration of the leaves. Try these snake plants for different effects:
- Sansevieria trifasciata 'Hahnii' (bird's nest snake plant) grows to only about six inches tall. Its clusters of leaves form a cluster resembling a bird's nest.
- Sansevieria cylindrica (cylinder snake plant) has round, stiff leaves that can reach several feet in length. The leaves arch outward from a central crown.
- Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii' (variegated snake plant) has creamy yellow leaf margins. To propagate this plant, it must be divided rather than propagated from leaf cuttings.
- Sansevieria trifasciata 'Twist' has twisted leaves that are striped horizontally with yellow variegated edges. It grows to about 14 inches tall.
- Sansevieria trifasciata 'Bantel’s Sensation' grows to around three feet tall and has narrow leaves with white vertical stripes.
- Sansevieria desertii, sometimes called rhino grass, grows to around 12 inches with succulent red-tinted leaves.
Propagating Snake Plant
Sansevieria plants can be divided easily during repotting. Alternatively, new shoots that emerge from the soil can be taken and potted independently. Cuttings can also be made, but it is much easier to rely on division.
Potting and Repotting Snake Plant
When potting, choose a sturdy material as strong roots can easily crack and break weak pots. Sansevieria are generally slow growers and rarely need repotting, but if given ample sunshine, they might grow rapidly and require repotting or dividing annually. Repot these plants in the spring. When repotting, always use fresh potting soil.
Wolterton, B. C., Johnson, Anne., Bounds, Keith. Interior Landscape Plants For Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Kim, Kwang Jin., Jeong, Myeon Il., Lee, Dong Woo., Song, Jeong Seob., et al. Variation in Formaldehyde Removal Efficiency Among Indoor Plant Species. Hort Science. 45,10,1489-1495,2010
Dracaena Trifasciata. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.