Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1250 Sansevieria trifasciata

Common Names: mother-in-law’s tongue,snake plant,bowstring hemp,sansevieria Family: Agavaceae (agave Family)
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snake plant
Steve decorates his porch with a potted snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) in the foreground. In the background is a close relative, Sansevieria cylindrica, that has leaves that curve together to form a cylinder.


This is one of the most popular old-timey houseplants around. Mother-in-law’s tongue grows from short stout rhizomes just beneath the soil surface. It has no stems at all. The lance shaped leaves are stiff, sharp pointed, erect, and up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall. They are around 2-3 in (5-7 cm) wide and rather succulent. The leaves are mottled and banded transversely on both sides with shades of darker and lighter greens. Periodically, a happy sansevieria will produce little greenish flowers on 1-3 ft (30-90 cm) racemes that are often hidden amongst the leaves. If you can find the flowers, you will notice that they are sweetly fragrant.

‘Laurentii’ has leaves that are both horizontally marbled with lighter and darker greens, and vertically striped with yellow. ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ is a cultivar with irregular white stripes on leaves that are slightly spiraled. ‘Silbersee’ has pale green bands on silvery leaves. ‘Cragii’ has broad pale yellow longitudinal stripes. ‘Moonshine’ has wider leaves that are bluish green. ‘Hahnii’, also known as bird’s nest sansevieria, is a six inch (20 cm) tall dwarf with a funnel shaped rosette of ovate-lance shaped leaves decorated with darker green cross bands. ‘Golden Hahnii’ is another dwarf with leaves that are boldly patterned with wide yellow longitudinal bands. Many other named cultivars can be found in the trade.

The related Sansevieria cylindrica has cylindrical leaves, but is similar to mother-in-law’s tongue in most other respects.


Sansevieria trifasciata occurs naturally in tropical Africa, especially Nigeria, where it grows in sandy or rocky desert habitats.


Light: Mother-in-law’s tongue does well in bright filtered or indirect light. It does not need direct sun, and usually thrives near a window in the house. That said, it does great outside in full sun, too, where its foliage colors will be more intense and it flowers more plentiful. Moisture:In nature this is a xerophytic perennial that grows in poor, dry soils. It should be watered moderately when the potting medium dries out, and even less in winter. Mother-in-law’s tongue is unusually tolerant of dry indoor air. Be sure the potting medium has excellent drainage, and do not overwater. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11 . Mother-in-law’s tongue is a tropical plant that tolerates frost or freezing poorly. We have seen them growing outdoors in a protected area alongside of the house in zone 9A where frosts are rare, but not unheard of. Propagation: Mother-in-law’s tongue produces suckers from its base which can be removed to start new plants. Even a section of leaf will produce roots when inserted in the soil.

snake plant
Snake plant is one of the easiest plants to grow indoors. It rarely needs maintenance, isn't bothered by pests or disease and grows well in both low light situations and direct sun.


Mother-in-law’s tongue makes a fine foliage houseplant that is undemanding, and seems to thrive on neglect. It’s a great accent houseplant for beginners, and quite possibly the most durable houseplant you can find. It has been said that the only way to kill a sansevieria is by overwatering. Position near a window and water only when the soil dries out. Mother-in-law’s tongue is a good potted plant for public spaces such as offices, foyers or waiting rooms. These and other attractive foliage plants are often grown in containers on the patio or porch. In warmer climes, grow Mother-in-law’s tongue in a rock garden, under big trees, or along the side of the house. The dwarf varieties are good in mixed succulent container gardens.


The family, Agavaceae contains more than 500 species distributed on all continents but Antarctica. Most are perennials or small trees found in relatively dry habitats. Important genera include Agave , which gives us tequila, and, ironically, a precursor in the synthesis of birth control pills; Dracaena, whose “dragon’s blood” is used to make a precious varnish; and Yucca, a large genus that includes several ornamentals of landscape architectural interest.

Steve Christman 1/9/16

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Sansevieria species profiled on Floridata:

Sansevieria trifasciata

( mother-in-law’s tongue,snake plant,bowstring hemp,sansevieria )

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