With common names like Snake Plant and Mother-in-law’s Tongue, Sansevieria trifasciata doesn’t sound like a very appealing botanical specimen to keep around. Yet this tropical plant, native to western Africa, has long been an indoor houseplant staple. In fact, this particular Sansevieria tops the list of easiest houseplants to grow.
On the gardeningknowhow website (gardeningknowhow.com), they note, “If a prize were available for the most tolerant plant, snake plant (Sansevieria) would certainly be one of the frontrunners. Snake plant care is very straightforward. These plants can be neglected for weeks at a time; yet, with their strappy leaves and architectural shape, they still look fresh. Additionally, they can survive low light levels, drought and have few insect problems.”
What’s not to love? This is about as close to an artificial plant as you can get, and even fake plants need a bit of care (dusting) from time to time. It gets even better, though. Gardeningknowhow reports that “NASA research has even shown that snake plants are able to help keep the air inside your home clean, removing toxins such as formaldehyde and benzene. In short, they are the perfect houseplants.”
I confess that Snake Plant has never been a favorite of mine. It’s so inert, not requiring much interaction, that I don’t find it particularly interesting. I also tend to favor less “architectural” plants indoors. In fact, I hadn’t thought of it in years. But I recently got an email from a reader that brought it front and center.
Roger Braun, of West Chester, wrote, “Can you talk about a snake plant that I received in 1997 after my brother passed? It suddenly sprouted flowers last month.” A snake plant flowering? It never occurred to me that they actually bloomed. Yet the photos that Braun attached showed the beautiful, single spike of delicate, white flowers.
What’s so unusual, is that from what I’ve read, Snake Plants rarely flower indoors. And it can take a long time, as evidenced ty the twenty-three years it took In Braun’s case. How many of us have gotten rid of a houseplant well before even half that amount of time has passed?
A brief web search revealed that Sansevieria is classified as a member of the Asparagus Family (Asparagaceae). This family is further divided, with Sansevieria/Dracena falling into the Beargrass Subfamily (Nolinoideae). (Lily-of-the-valley and Solomon’s Seal also fall into this subfamily.) Read a bit further, and you find that all of these subfamilies used to be grouped in the Lily Family, a perfect example of how botanists struggle to make the best sense they can of flower traits and similarities, and how opinions change.
Want to grow this plant? On the website of the Missouri Botanical Society we learn that, “. . . with proper care [Sansevieria trifasciata] will last for many years. In its native habitat, plant foliage may rise to as much as 4’ tall, but is often smaller (to 2’ tall) on indoor plants . . . Small, fragrant, greenish-white flowers bloom on mature plants in spring, followed by orange berries. Flowers and fruit rarely appear on indoor plants.
“Winter hardy to USDA Zone 10-12 . . . an easy-to-grow houseplant that tolerates a wide range of cultural and environmental conditions. It prefers warm, bright locations, but tolerates some shade. Protect from hot afternoon sun. Best grown in a well-draining potting mix. Water regularly during the growing season, with significantly reduced watering from fall to late winter. Do not pour water on the center of the rosette. Clay pots that are wider than they are high are often used to make sure this tall and narrow plant is stable and does not topple over. Indoor plants may be placed in shady outside locations in summer. Propagate by leaf cuttings or dividing offsets.”
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to email@example.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s book for children and families, Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets, is available on Amazon, along with her companion field journal, Explore Outdoors, at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.