Sansevieria masoniana (2016)

PhotoBy Jolie Krupnik (December 2016)

When I lack knowledge of a topic about which I am supposed to write, I procrastinate, which explains why I am writing this article seven months after winning the May attendance prize – Sansevieria masoniana, aka S. Mason’s Congo. With this plant, though, lethargy worked to my advantage.

When I received the plant, the leaf tips were slightly withered. I was quite discouraged by this, because a requirement of winning this plant was showing it in the next HSCSS show. How could I win a ribbon for a marred plant?

When I got home, I trimmed off the tips – careful to maintain the pointy tips, I thought – but ending up with blunt cuts. What had I done? Now I could never show this plant. I would be the laughingstock of the judges and fellow members.

So, I did what any humiliated procrastinator would do – I set the plant in a corner and ignored it. A few weeks later, I moved it outside under my patio eave, in the shade, without rain or regular watering.

Two months later, a new leaf was growing several inches away from the original leaf. Surprised and delighted, I planned to move the plant into a larger pot, with the intention of centering the main leaf in the new pot.

I learned two characteristics of sansevierias here. One, this genus can take neglect. These plants are commonly used as houseplants, withstanding low humidity, low light and irregular watering. Their architectural and decorative qualities and easy care make them popular with decorators.

Sansevierias are widely found in office planters under fluorescent lights. They require little fertilizing. The most familiar or common species is S. trifasciata, also known as “snake plant” or “mother-in-law’s tongue.” The tongue-shaped, narrow, flat leaves end in a sharp point (like your mother-in-law’s tongue?). This species is considered a weed in Australia, where it grows rampantly on the roadside.

PhotoTwo, sansevierias grow from rhizomes, which are reproductive stems with roots. Rhizomes spread and carry new growth away from the mother plant. Propagating from rhizomes is easy. They can be cut, left for a few days to heal, then planted in moist soil. Propagation can also be done with leaf cuttings, but you won’t get the variegation.

The large rhizome of my plant is perpendicular to the leaves, so this prevented me from centering the plant in its pot. I placed the plant back in its old pot and left it under the eave.

As the new leaf continued growing, one of the leaves of the mother plant withered along its long edge. You would think further disfigurement of the plant would be a disappointment. But, instead, it was another lucky outcome of my procrastination.

Knowing the new leaf could replace the marred leaf, I removed the plant from the pot, and close to the rhizome, carefully sliced off the withered and disfigured leaf. I was halfway to owning a show-worthy plant!

Sansevierias are beloved for their variegation. Leaves can be longitudinally striped, crossbanded or mottled. S. masoniana has thick, tall, undulating leaves, while other species have thin, flat leaves or stiff, swordlike, cylindrical leaves. The leaves vary in size from less than 6 inches to over 8 feet long. Sanseverias do not have trunks or stems.

A sansevieria collector asked me if my S. masoniana was a yellow or white variegate. This question took me to the Internet and a sansevieria magazine, which described how sansevierias get their variegation – chimeras, chlorophyll and three basic layers of cells in the developing growing tip.

A chimera is a plant or plant part that is a mixture of two or more genetically different types of cells. A sansevieria is a chimera because not all of its cells contain the same genetic information.

According to the blog Plants are the Strangest People: “A cell in the developing tip of a plant mutates in such a way that it can no longer produce chlorophyll. … Then as the cells continue to divide and reproduce, this leads to some large sections of the plant which are a different color than the rest of the plant.”

The blog goes on to say there are three basic layers of cells in the developing tip: I, II and III. Mutations in I affect the outer edge of the leaf, mutations in III affect the center of the leaf, and mutations in II affect a section in between the two. My original S. masoniana leaf has a green border and green center with white in between with some mottling. The new leaf doesn’t have stripes, but is mottled. Less green indicates less chlorophyll.

PhotoSanseverias are native to Africa and Asia. The genus was first placed in the Agavaceae family, then the Dracaenaceae and by some in the Ruscaceae families. However, today, the genus is considered correctly placed in the Asparagaceae family.

According to the J & J Cactus and Succulents website: “S. masoniana was collected in the Belgian Congo (renamed Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) by Maurice Mason, a renowned plant collector from Norfolk, England. It was originally introduced as Sansevieria Mason’s Congo but was described in 2000 by Juan Chahinian as a species in the Cactus and Succulent Society of America Journal (Volume 72(1)).”

If anyone owns this volume, please let me know if I can borrow it. Sansevierias can be planted outdoors all year in U.S. plant hardiness zones 10B through 11.