Interior decorators and architects in search of bold plants to harmonize with modern designs have found that large Monsteras, cut-leaf Philodendrons, and glossy Rubber Plants are ideal for their purposes.
But they, like many home gardeners, stayed away from Sansevierias (now classified as a Dracaena) except for the one often brushed off as “the ubiquitous” snake plant, otherwise known as Bowstring Hemp, Leopard Lily, or Mother-in-law’s Tongue.
This should not be as Sansevierias have qualities that recommend them highly for present-day uses. To be sure, one of the reasons for their neglect is that only three or four species are sold universally, and two or three others as collectors’ items.
But, since there are 100s of described varieties, this reason is bound to disappear one day soon when more growers and homeowners “find” them and make them available to the trade.
- Good Points For Sansevierias
- Sansevieria Origin
- Sansevieria Varieties for The Home
- Snake Plants Excellent Patio Subjects
Good Points For Sansevierias
Their elegantly long, exquisitely marbled leaves, stiff and erect, are synonymous with present artistic trends. There are many good points.
- They grow anywhere — flower pots, window boxes, tubs, baskets, and outdoors in many sections of the U. S.
- They can withstand low temperatures for short periods even though they come from tropical lands and prefer warmth.
- They grow in any kind of soil but do best in a light, porous mixture of humus, sand, and loam.
- They live on scanty or liberal amounts of water, although if a happy medium is maintained between the two extremes, so much the better.
- They like well-lit locations but tolerate dark, shady places.
- They are rarely bothered by insect pests and rarely by disease.
- They look fresh and healthy when frequently syringed and washed but do not insist on this extra care.
Sansevierias come from tropical Africa and its adjacent islands. Some species come from India, Burma, Ceylon, and perhaps China.
Today they may be found naturalized or in a semi-wild state in various warm regions of the world.
This group of plants is cultivated for its valuable fiber. All the species possess it in their leaves, but quantity and quality differ with the varieties. Natives use the fibers for bowstrings, nets, cords, rope, and various textile purposes.
During the war, extensive experiments with Sansevierias were conducted in Florida and the West Indies when a shortage of cordage was anticipated.
Noteworthy Features For Stemless Sansevierias
Most Sansevierias are stemless and have a creeping rootstock of pencil thinness or several inches in diameter; short or quite long; white to highly colored; entirely out of the ground, partially exposed or hidden.
Some species bear one leaf, others 2 or 3, 5 to 15 or more. Those varieties with distinct stems bear the greatest number.
Growths may be diminutive or attain grandiose proportions. Leaves often produce compact or loose rosettes or grow fan-shaped, if not in rows.
Foliage is rather fleshy to leathery, flat, channeled, half-cylindric, compressed, rigid, firm, or flexible. It may be quite short or extremely long and narrow to wide dimensions.
Sansevierias, which are related to lilies, all bloom in time. Flower stalks, simple or branching, usually produce conspicuous, slender-tubed flowers whose perianth lobes roll back or spread widely.
Flowers, solitary or two or more to a cluster, are white to greenish white and sometimes tinted with purple or pink. Most are highly fragrant, like hyacinths, and all last but a day or night.
Propagation may be by seed, rootstock divisions, or leaf cuttings. Seed is the slowest. Leaf cuttings and rootstock divisions produce many plants in less time.
To increase plants by leaf cuttings, cut 3-inch lengths of the leaf, partially insert each one in the sand and allow it to form roots.
Young shoots will start in a month or two—sometimes a bit longer. Once established, plants spread rapidly.
Since it will be impossible to describe all the species here, just the most desirable will be discussed.
Sansevieria Varieties for The Home
Sansevieria trifasciata is best known of all. It is sometimes sold under the name of S. zeylanica.
The latter is an altogether different plant and not in cultivation in the United States. S. trifasciata is a stemless plant. It produces 2 to 4 and even six erect, leathery leaves 3 to 4 feet long.
New leaves, beautifully marbled on both sides from base to apex, have alternate silver and dark olive green bandings. Later, the silver coloring fades into grass green, and the olive becomes a blackish-green streak.
Sansevieria Trifasciata Var. Laurenti
Sansevieria trifasciata var. Laurenti is a golden-striped sort originating in the Belgian Congo. It is like the type in habit, except its leaves are longitudinally striped with golden yellow.
A remarkable thing about this plant is that leaf cuttings will not produce beautiful variegation even though the yellow portion is used. The power to produce the yellow stripe resides entirely in the rootstock.
Sensation. When thousands of leaf cuttings are made (as they were of S. trifasciata and its variety), there’s always the possibility of a sport. The sensation came about in this manner.
The Sieloff Floral Company was one of the largest growers of Sansevierias in the Midwest. Gus Bantel, the grower, has made hundreds of thousands of cuttings of the common green and striped forms.
One day, in a bunch of these, he detected a half dozen growths that produced smaller, stiffer, narrower leaves with stripes that were decidedly the whitest yet seen. These were potted in 1927, tenderly nursed to maturity, and propagated from rootstocks.
During the next few years, it was noted that all their good qualities remained constant, propagation on a large scale was begun, and a patent was applied for.
Bantel’s Sensation is the neatest horticultural work since Hahn’s patented Birds Nest Sansevieria hit the market a few years back. It produces two to four stiffly erect, slenderly sword-shaped leaves to grow.
These are a foot or more high, about 2″ inches broad above the middle and gradually taper off and end in an acute, stiff point. The face of the leaves is mostly a very dark green streaked with silver white.
The back is more pronouncedly SilverStripe, often more silver than green.
Sansevieria Hahnii, the first of this plant group to be patented, is unique. It has comparatively short, broad leaves arranged in a bird’s nest fashion, a characteristic that separates it from the rest.
It is probably the most dwarf member of the group and the fastest propagating.
Leaves, mostly not more than 8″ inches long and 3 or more wide in the middle, are oval and conspicuously marbled with dark and pale green irregular bandings.
Sansevieria longiflora, a stemless plant with a thick, orange-cinnamon rootstock, produces about seven leather-like, lanceolate leaves to grow.
These, over 3′ feet long and up to 5″ inches broad, narrow at the base into a concave channeled petiole and gradually taper above the middle into a hard, brown, spike-like point.
The foliage color is a dull, blackish green marked on both sides with blotches and spots of green scattered or arranged in irregular transverse bands.
Sansevieria cylindrica is the best-known of the cylindric species. Young plants make excellent pot plants where space is limited, but if allowed to grow unhindered, leaves will be 5′ or 6′ feet long and about as thick as a rubber hose.
The typical sort produces three or four stiffly erect leaves to a growth, cylindrical form, thicker at the base, and gradually tapering into a hardened tip.
Young leaves are banded transversely with dark and pale green. In older leaves, the banding is less noticeable.
Sansevieria Cylindrica Var. Patula
Sansevieria cylindrica var. patula produces more leaves than the parent type. Instead of being stiffly erect, these are shorter and tend to spread out fanwise due to the abrupt curving near the base.
Sansevieria gracilis is a graceful, dwarf-type plant with a short stem that produces several branches above the ground. Leaves, straight, curved, or slightly sinuous, are firmly flexible but not rigidly stiff.
They are channeled for a few inches at the base but, from then on, to the acute spine-like brown or whitish point at the end, are cylindrical. The margins of the channeled portions are white.
Sansevieria canaliculata is unique in that it produces only one cylindric leaf for growth although occasionally two are found.
Rising from the rootstocks close together, Leaves are firmly flexible, usually slightly curving, and up to 3′ feet long.
Sansevieria ehrenbergii produces a short stem completely hidden by the clasping leaves. There are five to nine bluish-green leaves to grow, and they spread fanwise.
Leaves, compressed, with flattened sides and rounded back, have a face that features a triangular channel from base to tip. Margins have a conspicuous white edge. This, a very distinctive species, is a “must” on any list.
Sansevieria aethiopica is a stemless plant with ascending, spreading, narrow, pointed leaves up to 18″ inches long and less than an inch wide. There are around 25 leaves on each tuft. Younger leaves are conspicuously banded with pale green.
Mature leaves are less marked. All have a somewhat bluish hue. This species is an excellent pot and window box plant, especially when height is not the thing. It also makes an excellent border plant.
Sansevieria arborescens is a neat little trick with stems that get 3′ to 4′ feet high and are covered with spreading, recurving, twisting green grass leaves. These are lanceolate in form and, when young, are only 3” to 5” inches long.
Older plants, however, may exhibit leaves up to 18″ inches long. The leaves are fairly thick, without any markings, and characterized by wavy whitish margins and a stiff, pale brown spine at the tip.
These are a few. There are other species, and one that I’m particularly interested in. It is one, still unidentified by me, which I have grown here at Shaw’s Garden for several years.
Snake Plants Excellent Patio Subjects
It seems destined to become an excellent patio subject. Each growth produces three to eight leather-like leaves, spreading more or less with prominent zigzag bands of pale and dark green and hardened red-brown margins.
These, 3′ feet or more high and 5″ to 7″ inches broad, sometimes taper only slightly to the base but always taper to an acute tip at the apex.
It may be a glorified version of S. longiflora and is distinguished from it by larger leaves strongly banded on both surfaces. On the other hand, it may be the imperfectly known S. aubrytiana.
Whatever this Sansevieria may turn out to be, it certainly merits attention. It has no peer when it comes to vigor and a bold, striking look.
44659 by Ladislaus Cutak