Sansevieria (2002)

PhotoBy Roy Kasten (November 2002)

A plant that brings back some childhood memories of “first plant encounters” is the Sansevieria (Dracenaceae), also called the Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. Honestly, I feel it should be named the Cinderella plant, as it seems so resilient. It can survive abuse from too much light to almost no light at all and endure almost total drought to being overwatered like a bog plant.

This extensive genus from the African continent has one representative which must be in thousands of homes throughout the world and the owners don’t even know they have a succulent. The plant: Sansevieria trifasciata. It can outgrow a 15-inch pot quite quickly and be divided regularly. This particular species comes in a variety of guises.

The most “boring” is the plain, dark-green-leaved form. The variegated forms are more interesting, having either a yellow stripe down each edge of the leaves, or a yellow stripe through the middle. The leaves usually have a horizontal banding. On occasion, these sansevierias have been known to flower, although the flower spikes on these plants are not huge. The flowers open in the evening and can be highly scented, like a hyacinth perfume.

A more easily accommodated variety is Sansevieria trifasciata “golden hahnii,” which has shorter rosettes and proliferates more slowly.

Some varieties, i.e., S. pinguicula, have a habit of “walking” across the ground or the top of a pot with their new offsets. They produce a stolon above the ground, and the plantlet on the end then puts down roots when it is a short distance from the parent.

Some species, such as S. cylindrica with its cylindrical stems, can be quite slow-growing. S. grandis is perhaps the largest-growing species, producing a flower spike up to 4 feet tall.

S. aethiopica is a small species that does very well in cultivation, offsetting and flowering easily. It also has a large flower spike, again highly perfumed.

Propagation can be done with offsets or single leaf section cuttings. All in all, this genus is a very long-suffering one that will tolerate most conditions.

I purchased a new S. kirkii “coppertone” plant at the HSCS show in July and swear it has not grown or moved a smidge, but is still alive. I must confess I have coddled it, and perhaps need to listen to my Cinderella theory and see what happens!