Friday, February 8, 2008

Teacher (Sansevieria trifasciata), Part I

Here's yet another plant that doesn't really catch any breaks in the naming department, just like Chlorophytum comosum. Sansevieria trifasciata is most commonly known as "snake plant," because the leaves are long and thin like snakes, and have irregular banding on them that sort of resembles the patterns on certain snakes, and that's okay. Not the most beloved of animals, but no big deal. It's also called "bowstring hemp" from time to time, owing to its past use in making bowstrings for African archers. (One source said Indian, not African. Maybe it's both. Maybe both of them are wrong. This is why using the internet for research can be dangerous.) Which is okay, too, I guess, though that's a little confusing because it's a totally different plant than hemp, and I think that most people of the world have moved on to guns anyway, not bows and arrows. Still, I suppose it's important to note its military past: I can't think of many other houseplants that have ever been in the service.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Moonglow,' a.k.a. 'Moonshine'

But the common name that concerns me here is the name "mother in law's tongue." In the last couple weeks, I've seen two different sites get this confused with another plant, due to the common names of each. Since the misinformation in question is potentially dangerous to people, and since it further makes my point about common names being problematic, a topic I pound on relentlessly at every opportunity, I'm going to lead with an explanation of what the mixup has been.

There are two plants that have mothers-in-law in their common names. Dieffenbachia spp. are (very occasionally) called "mother-in-law plant," and Sansevieria trifasciata is (a little more often than Dieffenbachia but still not very often) called "mother-in-law's tongue." The Sansevieria version is a reference to the size and shape of the leaves, plus more than a little bit of metaphor.1 I think if we really wanted a description with strict accuracy, we'd do better with a common name like "Gene Simmons' tongue:"

Photo: public domain, I think. I saw lots of this same picture, none of which were credited to anybody.

Or possibly "giraffe's tongue," which is a little closer still, as far as size and color goes:

Source: My Confined Space

I mean, look at that shit.2 I'll leave these out there just in case the internet wants to take up either suggestion. Realistically, I suspect the mothers-in-law still have it, but I like my ideas better.

The Dieffenbachia version is more sinister: Dieffenbachia spp. contain gazillions of tiny calcium oxalate crystals, which are sharp and are driven into the tongue, throat, and cheeks when a stem is chewed. The leaves and sap also contain these crystals. The suspicion last I knew was that Dieffenbachia also contained a second chemical of some kind or another which makes the whole business more painful, though I'm unclear about whether or not anybody's ever actually identified one or just thinks something else might be in there. Maybe I'll know by the time I do a Dieffenbachia profile.

In any event, chewing on a Dieffenbachia stem or leaf will drive bajillions of little needles into your sensitive mouth parts, possibly also with an extra chemical kicker to make it more painful, and your mouth and throat will react to this by swelling up. If your mouth swells, this is probably going to be painful, but it's not likely to be any huge or permanent deal, not really. If your throat swells, on the other hand, we have a problem, 'cause a person has to use his/r throat on a pretty routine basis, for swallowing and breathing. That does get life-threatening, potentially. Even if your throat doesn't swell shut, you're still going to have trouble forming words or getting them out, which is the (kinda mean) motivation for the name "mother-in-law plant" (i.e., plant you want to feed to your mother-in-law) and the more frequently encountered common name "dumb cane."3

clockwise from top left: Sansevieria trifasciata 'Black Coral,' 'Laurentii,' 'Futura.'

So I hope that cleared everything up. I'm told that a lot of the reason for the misunderstanding is that someone at this link, at, put this on-line and so now when people check for info, this is something they see, and it gets passed on because it's scary, and after all what if it's true? This is the first houseplant urban legend I've ever run across, so it's interesting in that way, but research and experience tell me that urban legends get passed on a lot faster than they get refuted (check sometime if you don't believe me: there's stuff on there that's been circulating for forever), and I found similar stuff on other Sansevieria pages at, so I doubt that all of them are ever going to be corrected. So expect to be hearing about this for the next twenty years.

The same thread I linked above also contains misinformation about Kalanchoe daigremontiana (now Bryophyllum daigremontiana, *sigh*), or "mother of thousands," though that misinformation, at least, got corrected downthread. Sansevieria trifasciata is poisonous, at least to cats (unsure about dogs or people), but it doesn't paralyze anybody's vocal cords. Dieffenbachia doesn't paralyze anything either, of course, unless paralysis has been redefined to include swelling.

Sorry that took so long. At least you got to see Gene Simmons.

There are many species in the genus Sansevieria, but only a few are commonly grown as houseplants, and Sansevieria trifasciata is the most common of those by miles. Time, chance and greed have given us a number of cultivars, and new ones are coming along all the time. (There is excellent Sansevieria eye candy here: if you can't get the link directly, go to "products and services" and click "new products." I want 'Onyx Black' something fierce. Another fine site for your Sansevieria porn needs is this one.) The most common cultivar is 'Laurentii,' which is a tall plant (to five feet) with yellow-edged leaves. A few people claim that 'Laurentii' occurs in the wild (Sansevieria trifasciata is native to west Africa, Wikipedia says, though the growers' guide says Sansevieria the genus is found in Africa and Asia. Aggravatingly non-specific about S. trifasciata, but I think because of this we have to allow the possibility that it could be from somewhere else, or maybe more than one place); this seems unlikely to me, because it seems like it would be disadvantaged (less green photosynthetic area, so less energy, and leaf sections, if they sprout, revert to the nonvariegated plant: we'll get to why and how this works much, much later), but it's not impossible, I suppose.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii.'

Sansevieria trifasciata is a common houseplant because it is so very easy to grow. Now, there are betterer and worserer ways of growing it, but if your goal is just to keep it alive, there are really only three rules to remember, and one doesn't count:

1. Do not overwater this plant, and really, really don't overwater this plant in the winter.
2. Do not expose it to cold (below 35ºF / 2ºC).
3. Never, ever feed it after midnight.

Well, okay. That last one is actually from the movie Gremlins. Not actually bad advice, though.

For best results: water when the soil is almost completely dry (in summer) or not at all (winter).4 Bright indirect light is good, though any level except full sun (which may bleach leaves a bit, especially if it's also hot) should be okay. The plants are more or less indifferent to humidity levels5 or temperature (as long as it's above freezing and all). Well-draining soil is very important for all plants, but especially so for this one; if it sits in wet soil for too long, it'll rot.

Pests aren't usually a problem. I think I brought in some whitefly on the 'Laurentii' pictured above (story at the link), but it wasn't hard to get rid of and I'm not positive about the ID. (UPDATE: I'm pretty sure, as of January 2010, that it wasn't whitefly. Though I have no idea what it was, if not whitefly.) They're also supposed to have the occasional scale or mealybug situation, but they're not known for anything in particular, like some plants are.

They are supposed to be somewhat heavy feeders, from what I've read, and I suspect that this is a big part of a common Sansevieria problem: on a lot of older plants, you'll see the leaves flopping over the side of the pot. The leaves are still alive, and the plant continues to grow, but it no longer holds itself upright. I think lack of fertilizer, lack of light, and soil being washed away from the top of the root ball all play a part in this. Limp leaves will remain limp, but if you feed the plant, give it a little new (well-draining!) soil on top of the roots, and move it to a brighter spot, the new growth should do a better job of holding itself up. Can't say I've done this myself: that's just a guess.

Sansevieria trifasciata also don't tend to develop incredibly deep root systems. More than once, people have brought plants in to work for repotting, in giant pots twelve or more inches deep, and then when I've slid the plant out, there were no roots in, like, the bottom eight inches of soil.6 There's not really a good way to handle this: if you put the plant in a shallow pot, it'll be top-heavy and uproot itself all the time; if you put it in a deep pot, you risk rotting it out because of all the heavy, water-retaining soil under the roots. The best compromise I can suggest is, get a deep pot, and plant it lower than you usually would. Leave no more than a couple inches of soil under the root ball. It doesn't solve the whole problem, but it avoids the worst of it, and the edges of the pot will also help support any plants with a tendency to fall over.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Black Robusta?' (ID uncertain)

The root systems aren't deep, but they are active little guys. (Shallow but busy: sorta like Keanu Reeves, twenty years ago.) The plant will reproduce itself via rhizomes, which are, for all practical purposes, underground stems. The rhizome travels a certain distance and then throws up a new rosette of foliage: given enough time, a single plant will fill its pot this way. (The photo immediately above is sort of a good illustration: the lighter-colored new growth on the far left of the pot is such a sprout.) While this is great if you're wanting to propagate a plant, it's not such great news if you don't: a rhizome that's frustrated for long enough can place enough pressure on a pot to break it open, all at once, usually on a day when everything else is also going wrong and you don't have time to clean up after a plant that's delirious with its first taste of freedom after years of confinement. Plastic pots, though not as good for the plants (because water can't exit the pot through the sides, so the soil stays wetter longer), make this situation easier to monitor, because they visibly bulge and stretch, though it doesn't come up very often in the first place.

The plant's tendency to spread by runners has made it into an invasive weed in places, mainly in islands in the South Pacific where it has been deliberately cultivated. It's also a problem in Hawaii, Australia, and Florida, but then, what the hell isn't a problem in Hawaii and Florida, right?

Propagation is easy, but there's a big catch. The easiest way to do it is to separate rosettes by cutting the rhizomes that separate them. Each rosette can be planted up individually, and, given proper care, it will begin to fill out its pot relatively quickly. The (kinda obvious) down side to this is that you can only get as many new plants out of this as you have rosettes in the original plant, at least until the divisions decide to make more.

There's another method: leaf sections. You take a long, healthy-looking leaf, cut it into pieces about two to eight inches long7 (I'm planning on doing this soon for another post, with pictures and stuff, though it's not so complicated that you couldn't just read about it and then do it for yourself), plant them right-side up in a rooting medium of your choice (ordinary potting soil should work on its own, though when I try this, I expect I'm probably going to amend the soil with sand or perlite), and keep the medium just barely moist until you see shoots appear from the base of the leaf. At this point, the original piece of leaf is no longer necessary, and can be cut away from the shoot, which will support itself after that. At least one site I ran across claimed that the leaf section could be re-used, and another shoot made from the same leaf section. I don't know whether this is true, but I wouldn't be surprised.8

Oooookay, Mr. S. Still not seeing a catch, though.

The problem is that certain kinds of variegation will reproduce from cutting apart rhizomes, but won't reproduce from planting leaf sections. So, if you want to, you can take a leaf of 'Laurentii' and cut it up and plant the sections and get new plants, but the new plants will lack the yellow variegation on the edges of the leaves. Other kinds of coloration will reproduce this way: 'Moonshine' / 'Moonglow,' for example, is supposed to retain its coloration when propagated from leaf sections, as will the other silver-gray cultivars (I'm using this link as an authority.), and plant habit also reproduces (as for example with Sansevieria trifasciata 'Hahnii,' a low-growing sport with a flatter rosette and much shorter leaves), but 'Laurentii' and 'Bantel's Sensation' (pictured below) will revert to plain green plants with the same habit as the variegated parent. I have not yet seen a definitive answer on whether or not the black cultivars ('Black Robusta,' 'Black Coral,' 'Black Gold') revert to a lighter color when propagated from leaf sections, but I suspect not, based on my incredibly limited understanding of how this all works (though 'Black Gold' almost certainly loses the yellow edges, just like 'Laurentii'). The planned leaf-section propagation is mainly to find out if the silver-gray plants, or the very dark green plants, really will retain their unusual coloration using this method.

[UPDATE: Karen715, in comments, says that 'Moonglow' doesn't come true from cuttings but reverts to the standard Sansevieria coloring of dark green stripes on light green leaves, though the habit remains the same. This has its own cultivar name, 'Robusta.' A test to see what 'Silver Queen' does will be underway in a couple days, as soon as I get a chance to cut up and plant a leaf.]

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Bantel's Sensation' (pretty sure)

Why does this happen, the reversion to non-variegated plants? Well, fasten your seat belts, 'cause there's gonna be some science. . . . in the second half of the post, which I'll post on Monday.

I know, cliffhangers suck. But so does trying to read 5000 words at a sitting. You know there are better things you could be doing with your time. I promise it'll be worth coming back for.

(Link to Part II of Sansevieria trifasciata)


Photo credits: mine, except as otherwise noted.

1 Without the metaphor part, one would assume that when you become a mother-in-law, your tongue magically becomes several feet longer, green, and pointed. My understanding is that, historically, this almost never happens. Maybe once.
2 As a child, I found Gene Simmons' tongue, and KISS in general, sort of alarming and terrifying, though this had less to do with the tongue than the evangelical Christian environment in which I was being raised. Now, I look at that picture and think, stop! You're trying too hard! Also: giraffes are cute.
3 Pet peeve: kids today seem not to know the word dumb can mean "mute." To them, dumb = stupid, end of story. Since there is a printed card near the Dieffenbachias with the name "dumb cane" prominently displayed, and since we're in a college town and consequently have a lot of customers who are nineteen, look twelve, and think at an eight-year-old level, I get to hear somebody say "dumb cane" to somebody, followed by Beavis-and-Butthead style laughing, every couple weeks or so. Yet another reason to hate common names. Though for the record, I loooooove Beavis and Butthead.
4 It's actually usually recommended that you water at least once during the winter, and I've been watering my smaller plants monthly this winter so far. But if you're not confident about being able to gauge when it needs water, leaving it dry is always the safer course of action. At least until spring.
5 I ran into a few sites that claimed that Sansevierias like humidity. It's possible, I suppose, but I've never seen anything that made me think they give a damn one way or the other. Even if they did like high humidity, I don't think they get it in their natural environment, so it's certainly not worth the time and effort to try to increase the humidity for this plant by itself.
6 Which raises questions. Is my responsibility to the customer, the store, or the plant? The store gets money if I do the repotting, and doesn't if I don't. The plant could die if I do the repotting, and won't if I don't. The customer may or may not change his/r mind about the procedure if I ask them, and the customer may or may not be upset that his/r judgment is being questioned, and the customer may or may not blame the store if the plant dies because I didn't say something about this to somebody. So far, the tendency has been to try to contact the customer and explain the reservations, and as far as I can remember, this has not yet resulted in anybody changing their minds about anything. Though it may, soon, get me to change my mind about whether or not I bother to call people anymore.
7 Longer sections are said to produce more shoots per section, and are also supposed to produce shoots faster. The big disadvantage, obviously, is that you're not going to be able to get as many long sections from a leaf as you could get short sections. The typical recommendation, which I assume is where one maximizes the number of potential new plants, is supposed to be about 4 inches (10 cm).
8 Off-topic, but one of my co-workers tells me that his grandmother, who had hundreds of African violets (Saintpaulia spp.) at any given time, was able, with one lucky leaf, to produce twenty-six plantlets from a single leaf cutting, by doing the same kind of thing: when the new sprouts came up, she would cut off the petiole of the original leaf and replant it. I don't doubt that this is true, and mention it solely to marvel at the dedication required to do something like that. Whether a similar cut-and-replant procedure would work for Sansevieria, I have no idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could get a second batch every now and again. Maybe more.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Mr. Subjunctive. It's Karen again. I do remember back in the early days (2000-2001)when I was a member at Dave's Garden that someone put up an info page conflating the nicknames of Sansevieria and Dieffenbachia (though not the page you linked) claiming that Sansevieria has a poision which will numb the throat. I wrote to correct him, but he insisted that he was correct. I don't recall that he had any kind of source to back himself up, while I, a voracious reader of plant books, and a Sans fan, had never come across this info before. (If you are curious as to why I am no longer a member at Dave's, e-mail me through my GW page.)

To be fair, Sansevieria is apparently poisonous to cats; another GW member had some kittens die after eating it.

By the way, in my experience, S. trifasciata 'Moonshine' does not come true from leaf cuttings. It puts up a similarly shaped plant with regular trifasciata markings. In fact, the resulting plant has a cultivar name of its own S. trifasciata 'Robusta,' not to be confused with S. robusta, which is a separate species, and not a "snake plant" shaped Sans. Apparently though, S.t. 'Silver Queen' does come true from cuttings. (The info in my last two sentences comes from The Sansevieria Trifasciata Varieties by B. Juan Chahinian.)

mr_subjunctive said...

Thanks, Karen. I edited the post to include the information about 'Moonshine.'

Just out of curiosity -- can you confirm whether or not the 'Hahnii' cultivars retain their habits from leaf cuttings? I haven't seen anything to make me think they don't, but I'd feel better if I had testimonials that they do.

Anonymous said...

Since I can't seem to keep any S.t. 'Hahnii' cultivar alive, let alone propagate them, all my knowledge is from the Chahinian book.

In brief, the silvery and deep green Hahnii varieties tend to produce true-to-type from leaf cuttings, while the types with different colored banding tend to revert to plain green. There are exceptions, though. They all seem to keep their dwarf growth habit.


Sarah Mary said...

"Shallow but busy: sorta like Keanu Reeves, twenty years ago."
That's absolutely hilarious. Just complimenting you on your witty writing. I LOVE this blog! It's a daily must-read.
Also, never been a fan of Sansevieria, but 'Bantel's Sensation is so pretty!

Mr. Green Genes said...

Great one Mr. Subjunctive, funny and instructive as usual.

I checked my RHS Encyclopedia of House Plants and read that the Sansevieria is named after Prince Raimundo Sanagrio de Sanseviero (1710-1771). I was hoping for a Van Dijk portrait of a gentilhombre somewhere to send to you, but no: it's not like the Web is exactly oozing information about this guy, only that he supported botanical expeditions. I mean, this is incredible- not even the Spanish language web engines give anything away.

sheila said...

A while back, I did a leaf cutting of one of the darker cultivars (no tag unfortunately). It didn't come out as dark as the original, but I don't think it's as light as a normal sans, either. Of course, I don't have the original plant around to compare, so I could just have a really faulty color memory.

I used to maintain a job with some really cute rosette-type sans with a yellow edge, sort of like hahnii but not exactly. Again, no tag. I wonder if they must have been chemically dwarfed, because after a year or so, in good light with good care, they starting getting taller and thinner like a normal sans! Does anyone have a clue what might have been going on there?

Mr. Green Genes said...

Dear Mr Subjunctive,

My efforts have paid handsomely, and I hope you will consider mentioning this in your next installment on Sansevieria.

What a story! Principe Raimondo Sangro (*not* Sanagrio) di Sansevero (*not* Sanseverio) was a Neapolitan alchemist with more than a strong whiff of sulphur to him. The most restrained version of the story is here

Something more interesting can be gotten here

I won't say anything more- just quote the following:

<<"In the Chapel one can see two Anatomic Machines, that is, skeletons, a male and a Female, made by injection, which because of their being complete and of their having undergone such diligent treatment, can be said to be unique in all of Europe". In light of current medical knowledge, one can theorize that the diabolic don Raimondo, with the assistance of his private physician Giuseppe Salerno, injected in the veins of his unfortunate guinea pigs a substance which upon entering the circulatory system gradually blocked it up to the point of causing the death of the subject. At that point, the substance might have "metalicized" the veins and arteries, preserving them from decomposing. In fact, the Prince must have waited for the skin and flesh to completely decompose before obtaining what he so pompously calls the "anatomic machines">>

Now, this is *one* step up Gene Simmons, in weirdness and eeriness...

Mr. Green Genes said...

On the other hand, it could be just a case of mistaken identity caused by linguistic confusion:

"Al parecer el genero deberia llamarse Sanseverinia, en honor de Pietro Antonio Sanseverino, duque de Chiaromonte y precursor de un jardin de plantas raras y exoticas en el sur de Italia, personaje al que deseaba dedicar el genero su descubridor, Vincenzo Petanga, de Napoles, pero por un error linguistico de Thunberg, quien describio el genero, lo denomino Sansevieria, dedicandolo al militar, inventor y erudito napolitano Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771), septimo príncipe de Sansevero."

This is from

and (assuming you don't speak Spanish) says that the idea of Vincenzo Petagna, Neapolitan botanist, was to dedicate the plant to Pietro Antonio Sanseverino, duke of Chiaromonte (or maybe his son, Prince Tommaso) and owner of a botanical garden with rare plants in the South of Italy. However, some Thunberg guy (some say a Willdenow guy instead) who described the genus later on, erroneously attributed the name to the above mentioned satanic prince. And the name stuck.

We can deduce from the above that the first home of Sansevieria outside of its natural habitat was the villa depicted on top of this page:

As far as I can understand, the villa is now a junior high-school- children are now playing in what used to be the botanical gardens where Sanseveria first arrived.

Well, not quite as interesting a story as that of the Neapolitan Dr. Frankenstein, but hope it helps.

Anonymous said...

But you left out an important part about San's. The Fragrance!
Though they only occasionally bloom indoors and only are fragrant at night, you'll be reminded of the way you
waxed poetic about Gardenia.

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, fair enough, Anonymous, but I was already worried about the length of the profile (at the time, it was about twice as long already as the previous longest profile), and I didn't think I had to include eeeeeeeeverything.

It's hard to describe the fragrance anyway, even when you've smelled it recently (which as I type this I have not): the adjectives I come up with at the moment are sad, funereal, and autumnal, which are evocative but don't do a very good job of describing the smell for someone who's never smelled it before.


Maybe the description should be, a dusty old storage room that nobody's opened or been in for several years, in which someone has just placed a thousand blooming potted chrysanthemums and a large pile of raked-up maple leaves.

Except that doesn't completely work either, 'cause it's one of those flowers where the scent changes during the course of the day, and during the lifetime of the flower spike. But that's kind of what they smell like to me when the first flowers have just opened, at about 7 PM at night. Later, they just start smelling like "flower," some generic floral scent without much depth or interest.

Sylvia said...

How do I get rid of the @@#@# (Sansevieria) ? I hate them. They are about to take over my yard and every spare moment that I can devote to digging them up. Their rate of encroachment is about 1 foot /month. Is there an easier way
short of napalm than digging? I can't believe you are trying to propagate them! Come over and take all you can dig!

mr_subjunctive said...

Hi Sylvia.

Um, the only ways I know of to kill a Sansevieria are: 1) too cold or 2) too wet. So possibly a lot of ice, dumped on them, at regular intervals.

Napalm would likely also work, though it's not something I've personally witnessed.

Anonymous said...

I always wondered about the "Never, ever feed them after midnight...". Then I tried it. Here's what happened...

Anonymous said...

The University College London investigated the Anatomical Machines of Sansevero around 2007 and found that they were artificially made of wire and wax over real bones. Bit of a relief really.


Anonymous said...

This was a very informative entry on Sansaviera, my plant is now looking at me from the lounge pulling its tongue out (as I watered it too much and haven't fed it, not knowing it needed feeding).
Superb article, if I can find the name of my other houseplant that I probably also water too much, I will come back on here to see if there is another friendly article to read.
ALl the best, Claude

Amy said...

So, four years after your original post, I've found this as I research to teach my plant ID students this plant...
I have a couple of thoughts:

First that another house plant has been in the service. Try Aspidistra!

Second, about "mother-in-law tongue"... I always thought it was because it was sharp like the stereotypical mother-in-law with a sharp tongue, so to speak. Otherwise, maybe it's more benign than that, and someone named it for his/her mother-in-law who's name was Lauren...

Thanks for the semi-relevant diversion from work!

Anonymous said...

My understanding of why Sansevieria is called 'mother in law's tongue' has always been that you can't kill the plant.

As to Dumb cane, from the Animal Poison Control center: Toxicity:
Toxic to Dogs, Toxic to Cats
Toxic Principles:
Insoluble calcium oxalates, proteolytic enzyme
Clinical Signs:
Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth , tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing

Anonymous said...

Aside from the swelling of the tongue that the plant causes, "mother-in-law's tongue" is a common phrase in Brazilian Portuguese, where there is a lot of this plant, and it is making fun of how mother in laws have so much advice that we don't necessarily want to hear. Prattling tongues...

mr_subjunctive said...


The plant being profiled here, Sansevieria trifasciata, does not cause tongue swelling. Dieffenbachia cvv. is the plant that causes tongue swelling.

Cindy said...

One of my favorite tidbits on the Sansevierias is the awl shaped leaf tip needs to be intact for the leaf to continue to grow. If it is removed, the leaf will not grow any longer. Thus, if you want to curtail its height, remove these tips. If you want it to grow taller, make sure the tips are intact when you buy the plant.
Thank you for this great blog. I love house plants and this is so entertaining to read.

theEleventhMeh said...

So, I know it's been on the area of seven years since you wrote this, but I didn't discover Sansevieria until recently. I am green in the houseplant experience arena, not so much in the thumb area, and have been trying to rescue a few sick Sans I found in the clearance bin at Walmart. Misguided. It's been a struggle, but I really love them, and this article. Thanks

Anonymous said...

My mom used to have several Sansevierias and they were doing very well. She would put eggshells in water, and let them soak for a week or so (the smell was awful). Then she'd water Sansevierias with that solution. Several years later we all noticed that our apartment smelled like it was washed with an expensive perfume. It turned out that my mom's Sansevierias had produced flowers - they were in between the leaves, white, long and thin and produced the best smell in the world. It happened only once for the whole period she had them (ten years or more).

P.S. Sorry for my English, I'm not a native speaker

James Kominos said...

When some of the leaves fall to the side, I just stand them up and tie it around the sturdy leaves, eventually it will stand by it self, so I've learned.

Rebekah said...

I had a problem with a weird what looks like whitefly but isn't thing with this plant. It then spread to my palm plant. Tried hosing it down etc. but because I have no idea what it is I can't seem to get rid of it. The Sansevieria trifasciata has been growing fine even with the white stuff on it but it seems to have killed everything else near it :(

Margaret Ervin said...

Based on observation, not science. I think the leaves "lie down" when the plant is sending out a runner. Then when the new sprout starts growing up, the whole plant rights itself and both the old leaves and new start sitting up straight.

Steve O'Hara said...

Aspidistra Guy here:

For people in the 'Frozen North'(Canada), this is the easiest house plant provided you don't over-water. It takes the cold drafts, desert-like aridity and darkness of our winters in stride. It is super easy to propagate too - just let the cut ends dry for 2 weeks prior to planting. Watch out for sunburn in the spring and follow all the points about over-watering in your blog and you'll have a plant that will be passed along after you're dead and gone. Much easier than aspidistra as there's no spider mites ever.

Steve O'Hara said...

One more thing I forgot to mention, try and find the newer, squat varieties like 'Robusta' instead of the typical 'Trifasciata' with its very tall, narrow leaves. These stand up to lower light much better and don't fall over.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to whomever posted about the 'Bantel's Sensation' variety!
I believe I have this plant, purchased from my local Lowe's store, and had my doubts that it was actually a Sans, due to the banding being opposite in direction of a typical Sans, and the thicker, narrower leaves. I am much more familiar with the classic variety that my mom has had since the 70's, with the yellow horizontal banding and more leathery leaves. Thankfully I was able to find a photo of the Bantel's variety (most sites don't list it) and it appears to be the same or very closely related to what I have in my home. Mystery solved!

Anonymous said...

You said that the snake plant "doesn't development incredibly deep root system". Perhaps this is caused by improper watering? Watch this Youtube video (tech talk with Lee Newton - snake plant - by Lyndale Plants). Lyndale said that you are supposed to water it fully until the water drips from the bottom of the port. She said watering too shallow will result in shallow root system causing the plant to be unstable.

mr_subjunctive said...


Miswatering can certainly cause a shallower root system than the plant would otherwise grow, sure. But even when you water the way Newton describes (thoroughly soaked, followed by letting the roots dry out again before the next thorough soaking) and the plant is growing happily, the root system tends not to go much below the first six to eight inches of soil -- it seems like when the roots have gotten big enough, rather than growing downward, the plant goes horizontal and makes another rosette of leaves.

A lot of plants in the Marantaceae have a similar growth habit (shallow roots, horizontal growth of a rhizome that sprouts new rosettes of leaves) despite not being particularly related or having a similar habitat, so I'm not sure what problem this solves, exactly. (If I had to guess, I'd guess that growing deep roots is mainly only useful if it enables you to reach otherwise inaccessible water, which Sansevieria doesn't need because it can store lots of water in its leaves already, and Ctenanthe/Stromanthe/Maranta/etc. doesn't need because it lives in a rainforest where there's always plenty of water in the top layer of soil. Maybe faster horizontal growth pays off by preventing potential competitors from establishing themselves first?)