Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law's Tongue) Profile

a snake plant on a side table

The Spruce / Alonda Baird 

Sansevieria trifasciata (also known as the Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law's Tongue) is one of the most popular and hardy species of houseplants. An architectural species, it features stiff leaves that range from six inches to eight feet tall, depending on the variety. Snake Plants usually have green banded leaves, while the variety commonly known as Mother-In-Law's Tongue typically features a yellow border.

Sansevieria trifasciata is a member of the Asparagacea family—a relative of garden asparagus. Sansevieria was first cultivated in China and kept as a treasured houseplant 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 snake plant. Sansevieria also is among several plants 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 Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia and the Institute for Environmental Research at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, Sansevieria has a demonstrated ability to remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air.

closeup of a snake plant
The Spruce / Alonda Baird
Full length shot of a snake plant
The Spruce / Alonda Baird
Botanical Name Sansevieria trifasciata
Common Name Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue, viper's bowstring hemp, and St. George's sword
Plant Type Evergreen perennial in Zones 9 thru 11; a houseplant in colder zones
Mature Size 6 inches to 12 feet 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)
Flower Color Greenish-white
Hardiness Zones 9 through 11
Native Area Tropical West Africa

How to Grow Snake Plants

Sansevieria is easy to grow and is nearly indestructible; they will thrive in either very bright light or almost dark corners of the house. 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.

Light

Although they are very forgiving, Sansevieria plants prefer indirect but steady light with some direct sun. They can adapt to full sun conditions and will also survive quite dim situations.

Soil

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.

Water

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. 

Fertilizer

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.

Potting and Repotting

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.

Propagating Snake Plants

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.

Varieties of Snake Plants

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.
types of snake plant illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Melissa Ling

Toxicity

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.