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Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii'
'snake plant' or 'mother-in-law's tongue'

'snake plant' or 'mother-in-law's tongue'This plant has been very popular since the early 1930s and perhaps as early as the Victorian era.

Because of its great nature of thriving and surviving with pure neglect, many people find this plant wondrous to have in their homes. It needs very little care.

This perennial is very popular and known as the mother-in-law's tongue. Some other varieties are 'Golden Hahnii, Silver Hahnii, and the Hahnii (sometimes know as the birds nest). There are about 60 species in this family.

It grows happily from dry rocky habitats to the tropics and semi-tropical areas.

It is mainly grown for its stiff and fleshy stems but often it will bloom in a very pot bound situation or with age.

snake plant in bloom


In winter, let them go bone dry between waterings. In the summer you can water them every couple of weeks, but never keep them anything like what you would call "moist".


Propagation is by root division and by stem cuttings sliced and put in perlite boxes. Many times side shoots will appear in pot bound containers. But, the plant does likes to be pot bound. Those plants that are variegated may lose variegation with leaf cuttings.

Divide in the spring is best. I either just break the root ball apart or, it that is difficult, then help it with a sharp knife.

I use sifted compost for almost everything. Potting soil will do it. The "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants" says "2-parts soil based potting mix and one part coarse grit."

Root leaf cuttings from summer to autumn are the best time. Prepare a cutting box of perlite/vermiculite and sand. Keep moist but not wet. For added humidity you may use a plastic bag for coverage but remove or open up for circulation if it becomes too wet. Using a rooting hormone compound will enhance root development. Rooting hormone also may contain some fungicide properties which will prevent damping off. Do not over use. Just dip the cut area and tap off excess.

photo by Laurie Jensen of her snake plant bloomThis plant does not root well in water.

Many times the growth of the plant will stop if the leaf tip is damaged. Trim this off and wait for new growth.

Interesting to note is that this plant is still being used as a raw fiber in South Africa.

Laurie Jensen's spends the summers on her deck getting western sun. An older plant, she lets it winter indoors to protect it from the Minnesota chill. Here is a photo of a recent bloom.

Emily: an excellent example of sanseveria cylindrica.

sanseveria cylindricaDear Emily:I have a snake plant of which I'm quite fond - have had it about l 1/2 years. It is colored like a snake plant but grows straight up from a central stem, with shoots out on the sides. The leaves are slim, round, not flat. The two largest, longest leaves are in the center and are about 3 1/2 ft. long. the side shoots are probably 1 1/2. It's quite attractive.

Seldom watered, it's growing in really poor light. The central shoot was considerably shorter when we got it but almost immediately it leaned. The second shoot came along and after a bit it too leaned .The only way it will stand straight up is being staked. It's not lack of water, I've experimented with that. It's never overwatered.

The white patch, on the plant when we got it and seen in the photo, grew a bit but never spread.

A: I think that is an excellent example of sanseveria cylindrica. If you do a web search on the latin name you will find articles and images of the plant. I've never seen one.

The scar on it is probably just that, from a wound when it was little.

Great plant.

Snake Plant from Queens, NY


Emily: Snake plant from 1930's.

Dear Emily: I live in Queens, NY (Astoria). This Snake plant's origin is from the 1930's. My grandmother attained a piece of the original plant in the 1940's. I grew up with the plant in the 1970's to the 1990's. When I got my 1st apt hhere in NYC (1990's), I took a piece with me.

Look at it now. It flowers every year. Every year I cut away at it & give it away as a gift & it keeps coming back!!!!!!!

Emily: Snake plant from 1940's (or earlier).

Dear Emily: My grandmother (born 1894) gave all four of her daughters snake plants from her own stock, probably in the 1940's when all the girls (my mom and my aunts) married and started their own families.

I remember that mom and my aunts always had a house full of snake plants, all starting from grandma. When I was young, blooming was a rarity. Now, they seem to bloom every year or so.

My mom died in 1994 and I lost all of hers to a hard freeze in the process of moving. Fortunately, a 1st cousin restocked me from some handed down to her from one of mom's sisters (they ship bare root quite well). When tightly pot bound, we just thin them out.

My restocked line by way of one of my aunts is thriving and I've already thinned some out to my daughter. Except for cold, they are hard to kill. It is strange though that flowering is now a common occurrence - pot bound or not - whereas it was rare decades ago.

Snake plants must have been quite popular and inexpensive in the USA of the 1920s and '30s, when grandma would have started her stock, as grandma and granddad lived on his salary from textile mill jobs in the Depression Era 1930s (Dan River Mills, Danville, VA). An expensive, exotic plant would have been unreachable on their budget. Given that grandma also had several close sisters and aunts dating back to the late 1800s, it may also be the case that grandma got hers also from within the family.

Quite possibly, this family stock of snake plants might reach back over a century and still going strong by only thinning out once in a while.

Richard, Apex, NC.

snake plant bloom sent in by a reader


Emily: My snake plant just flowered!

Dear Emily: Thought you might like this photo of my neighbour's Snake Plant . It has just flowered and he has never seen it before although he is a professional gardener.
Best Wishes, Colin

Sansevaria in SavanahEmily: My snake plant just flowered. Now it stinks!

Dear Emily: Our Sansevieria is in extraordinary bloom now and we too experienced a strong gardenia type scent that emits only at night when the blooms are most "fairy" like.  Preceding the bloom stalks came 2 soft looking, very yellow mushrooms, one at a time, which have turned very gray and leathery looking in one night.  The blooms came and opened and now a 3rd mushroom has arrived.   Any connection between events?  The nectar droplets at the base of the flower heads is significant.  Symbiotic relationship of any sort?  Our daughter repotted this 18 year old plant this summer after we started losing some stalks (over watering) and the weight of some were problematic.  Then we relocated it in our sunroom.  Could the mushrooms present any danger to us and how do you think they came to be? Savannah, GA.

Sansevaria in SavanahEmily: How do I get rid of it!

Dear Emily: I have a yard full of snake plants and recently re-sodded the yard. I pulled up all the snake plants I could see but they are growing back and are interfering with the sod taking root. Is there any way to get rid of them permanently?

A: It sounds like you have real strong root systems going on for the Sanseveria to be returning so easily. I am afraid manual digging is the safest method so you will not curtail and kill the root system of your new sod. If you use a herbicide this will injury the roots of the sod.

Just keep snipping the new growth, eventually they will die back from injury.