Look through the window and type in “What is the best houseplant to buy?“” and the top result is the snake plant, which some people call “mother-in-law’s tongue.” If you are new to houseplants, pick this one up. Perhaps you’re already moving on since we stopped at “snake plant,” but keep reading! Even the most jaded houseplant collector will find new intrigue within the ever-so-common genus Sansevieria.
FOR THE BEGINNER
Generally, snake plants are selections of Sansevieria trifasciata. They are some of the most low-light plants that thrive even better in bright indirect light. You don’t want to place it directly in the sun (rays of light hitting the leaves) unless you have it deep inside a room since it may start to yellow.
As snake plants are succulents, they require a good draining cactus mix. These plants thrive on neglect; they will only cause issues if they are watered too often or left standing in water. Its roots can rot beneath the soil if they receive too little light and are watered before full maturity. Amazingly, this might mean watering only once a month or two! If you neglect the plant, the leaves will shrivel, then once they are re-watered they should blossom right back up!
You can expect your snake plant to grow slowly, sending up leaves infrequently from beneath the ground. FGG employees love watching the spiraling leaves unfurl. The leaves last for years, so the plant gains in density and beauty over time, with virtually no maintenance. Because they grow from thick underground roots called rhizomes, sansevierias are super easy to divide and replant. Your friends will be amazed at your knowledge of plants with this fun propagation trick! Some good Sansevieria trifasciata selections are laurentii, Moonshine, and Zeylanica.
FOR THE EXPERT
Are you sure you know everything there is to know about Sansevieria? Did you know they’re no longer Sansevieria? The entire genus was just reclassified as Dracaena. That’s right. Dracaena. What interesting things can you tell us about our new friend the Dracaena?
Starting with the main characteristic that separates the snake plants, soft leaves versus hard leaves. Some snake plants, like Dracaena trifasciata cultivars, have soft leaves. On the softer side, we also have Dracaena masoniana, which grows up to six feet tall with wide leaves. A variety with a name like Shark Fin or Whale Fin is often sold as a single fat leaf. Its nice dark leaves allow it to soak up as much light as possible in the darkest corners. The fact that these are tropical plants can only be grown indoors is why they thrive so well in deep undergrowth. Their tropical heritage explains why they are unable to grow outdoors in our Bay Area climate.
Among the hardy snake plants we have the Dracaena angolensis type (Sansevieria cylindrica). The plants in this group tend to be lighter in color and cylindrical in shape. These plants can be found in arid exposed habitat in Africa and Madagascar. Combined with their cylindrical shape, their hard skin locks in water. Many hard skinned snake plants also have spikes on the leaf tips. Dracaena penguicula and Dracaena cylindrica ‘Padula’ are two cultivars with spikes that can be deadly. Growing from the mother plant, these plants often shoot out stolons that creep beneath the surface of the soil as they endure. Plants with hard leaves perform better in low light than those with soft leaves, but they thrive in bright light. Some, like Dracaena cylindrica ‘Padula’ can be grown outdoors in the Bay Area. A few other selections of these hard leaved Dracaena are ‘Fernwood,’ ‘Mohawk,’ ‘Samurai‘ and “Starfish”. There are dozens of other varieties available along with hundreds of species, waiting for you to discover them.
MORE FUN INFO FOR BEGINNERS AND EXPERTS ALIKE
- There is a genus of snake plants named for an Italian scientist and inventor Raimondo di Sangro, (1710-1771), prince of Sanseviero Castle in Italy. Perhaps they grew snake plants in their dark corners?
- Because snake plants evolved to breathe at night because of a strange quirk of evolution, they are the best air purifying houseplants as well. Thus, there are plants purifying the air at night while you sleep, while others take the night off! Having this feature makes them perfect for bedrooms, as they can sanitize the air while you sleep.
- Did you ever get tangled up in that tough internal fiber while trying to cut a snake plant with your clippers? Africa has long used them as a strong rope, even strong enough to make bowstrings. This is why they are referred to as “viper’s bowstring hemp.”
- In addition, snake plants can be used as bandages because of their shape and natural antiseptic qualities, making them ideal for dressing wounds.
If you used this information to decide to buy your very first houseplant, or if you wish to start collecting the rare and collectible snake plants, we hope you found it helpful.
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