Snake Plant Care – Growing Sansevieria Mother In Law Tongue

Snake plants are long-lived, easy to grow, striking in appearance, and great for your indoor air quality.

They are a great choice for people who struggle to care for house plants, those who want better air indoors, and those who enjoy using plants to accentuate the architecture and style of their home.

There’s simply nothing not to like about the snake plant.

snake plant indoors in large terra cotta potPin
Snake plant used indoors planted in a large terra cotta pot

What Is The Plant’s Origin?

The snake plant is native to tropical West Africa, ranging from Nigeria to the Congo.

How Is The Name Pronounced?

The scientific name of Sansevieria trifasciata is pronounced “san-suh-VEER-eeuh try-fuh-sigh-AY-tuh”.

Where Did The Name Come From?

The snake plant is formally named Sansevieria after the Italian scientist and prince of Sanseverio, Raimondo di Sangro. Because of some confusion with the name origin, the genus is also sometimes called sanseveria and sanseviera.

What Is The Plant Related To?

The snake plant is scientifically classified as belonging to the same family as hastas and is also distantly related to asparagus.

How Many Species Are There?

There are about 70 varieties of sansevieria, [1] but only about 15 of them are commonly commercially available.

What Is The Botanical Name?

The most common botanical name of the snake plant is Sansevieria trifasciata. Another relative that is a popular succulent houseplant is Sansevieria pinguicula.

What Are The Common Names?

Common names of the snake plant include “mother-in-law’s tongue”, “woman’s tongue”, and “snake tongue”, for its sharp bladed leaves. It is also called “viper’s bowstring hemp” because its fibers were once used to make bowstring.

Growing The Snake Plant

Size and Growth

The snake plant’s leaves can reach heights of 28-35 inches and approximately 2 inches wide in maturity, with differences in different varieties. It is a slow-growing rhizome, that is prized for durability and reliability rather than rapid growth.

Flowering and Fragrance

The snake plant can produce fascinating flower stalks, seemingly at random, and often with years between blossoms. The flower stalks can be impressive and produce a powerful floral scent. Unlike many plants, the snake plant does not bloom unless it is mildly stressed, so if it is grown in a container, it needs to be root-bound in order to produce flowers.

Light and Temperature

The resilient snake plant is a favorite houseplant partly because it can thrive in even low light conditions. It is happiest in a window with indirect sunlight but is very forgiving of lighting conditions.

Watering and Feeding

It is better to underwater a snake plant than to overwater it. Allow it to dry out between watering, and, in the winter months, it only needs to be watered every 4-6 weeks. You can use a half-diluted general purpose fertilizer during spring and summer seasons, but it is not necessary.

Soil and Transplanting

If your snake plant is happy, do not repot it too often. The plant prefers to be slightly rootbound, so consider only repotting every 3-6 years, depending on the pot and plant size. Because they like it a little dry, excellent drainage is important. Use a mix of potting soil along with a cactus and succulent soil.

Maintenance

Should your snake plant flower, you can trim the dead stalk once it has finished blooming. Generally speaking, the snake plant requires little to no grooming unless leaves are dying due to illness or poor conditions.

How To Propagate The Snake Plant?

The snake plant is easily propagated by division and sectional lead cutting. [2]

From a cutting:

  1. Simply select a strong, healthy young leaf
  2. Cut it with clean, sharp shears
  3. Let it rest for a day or two in indirect light
  4. Insert the cut end into a container filled with lightly moistened sand
  5. Allow it to dry a bit between moistening
  6. It will root on its own within a couple of weeks

Dividing the plant:

  1. Because the snake plant is a rhizome, it can be divided when repotting or transplanting
  2. Unpot the parent plant and shake the roots free of loose soil
  3. Choose a healthy section of rhizome with at least three root sections and one new leaf cluster emerging
  4. Use sharp shears to cleanly separate your section without tearing or injuring the rhizomes
  5. Plant the separated section in a new pot with well-draining soil
  6. Let it rest for a day or two before watering

Caring For The Snake Plant

The snake plant is a very easy houseplant, tolerant of drought and low light, and resistant to most pests and diseases. The worst thing you can do is overwater a snake plant. Choose a well-draining soil and allow it to dry completely between watering.

In winter months, allow it to go a month or two between watering. Give it indirect light, keep the temperature above 55 degrees, and then ignore it most of the time. It is a great choice for people who may struggle to keep house plants alive.

Snake Plant Problems – Pests, Diseases

Snake plants occasionally attract pests. If the plant is heavily infested with pests, it is better to discard it due to the difficulty of completely eliminating pests, and the risk of contagion of healthy plants.

For light infestations, quarantine the plant while you treat it. Snake plants can become infested with:

Spider mites. As the name implies, spider mites look like tiny spiders and weave tiny white webs. They can cause discolored leaves and may chew holes in the leaves if left unattended.

Spider mites are a particular challenge for snake plants and Kentia palms, because they like the dry climate the plant prefers.

If you spot them early, you can treat spider mites by gently washing all the leaves of your snake plant on all sides, particularly the undersides, using a sponge dampened in warm water. Repeat this daily, until you no longer see signs of spider mites. More aggressive infestations can be treated with neem oil.

Mealybugs. Mealybugs usually look like small, white, powdery insects clustered around the new growth of a plant. Like spider mites, they can be treated by washing a snake plant gently with warm water, or with neem oil for more serious infestations.

For both insects, if you use two or three applications of an insecticide and it does not resolve the problem, it is better to discard the plant than continue to try to treat it. However, because the snake plant propagates so easily, you may be able to find healthy leaves, wash them carefully, allow them to dry for a day or two, make sure they are free of insects, and start again in fresh, sandy soil.

Tips, Tricks, And Suggestions About The Snake Plant

  • Try to avoid getting the leaves of a snake plant wet when watering. The deep throats of the plant can hold water and potentially cause rot or fungus when watered from above, so give water at the soil level.
  • The snake plant is toxic to cats and dogs and should be placed where pets will not be able to chew the leaves. Ingesting a few leaves is unlikely to kill a pet, and more likely to cause vomiting and diarrhea, but all exposure should be limited. [3]

Best Ways To Use In Design – Indoors Or Outdoors

The striking, upright habit of the snake plant, along with the elegant stripes on the leaves, gives it a modern, classic look when part of interior décor. Because each species grows to a specific height, they have a structured, architectural effect.

A row of plants can be used to screen a window and add privacy without excluding light, or evenly balance both sides of a mantle, console table, or furniture. Taller species are even attractive on the floor and combining different species of different heights creates a pleasing variation.

The snake plant is one of the most efficient houseplants for air purification, and it cleans the air using an unusual process where it exhales oxygen at night, unlike other plants. Consider placing snake plants in a bedroom for better air quality while you sleep.

Buying Tips

When choosing a snake plant to take home, look for one that has strong, deep green leaves. Pale leaves are a sign of an unhealthy plant. Always inspect plants thoroughly for insects before bringing them home.

What Are The Most Popular Snake Plant Species Varieties?

The most popular snake plant varieties are:

  • Sanasevieria “Golden Hahnii”. This bright variety has short leaves with yellow borders.
  • Sansevieria trifasciata ”Bantel’s Sensation”. This snake plant has narrow leaves with white vertical stripes and grows to around 3 feet tall.
  • Sansevieria trifasciata ”Cylindrica”. This unusual variety has rounded leaves rather than flat ones, with pale green horizontal stripes.
  • Sansevieria trifasciata “Futura Robusta”. The smallest of the snake plants, this one has silvery green leaves with dark green horizontal stripes.

Summary

The snake plant is a nearly perfect houseplant. It is low maintenance, long-living, tolerant of low indoor light, purifies the air, and is an elegant, attractive plant in almost any setting. It’s perfect for people with a streamlined, modern décor, particularly if they don’t have good luck taking care of houseplants and are prone to benign neglect.

Sources:

  • [1] https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/palette/100110.html
  • [2] http://www.hort.cornell.edu/4hplants/Flowers/SnakePlant.html
  • [3] https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/snake-plant

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