Snake Plant 101 #1

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Snake Plant or Sansevieria as it is commonly known is an ornamental and striking plant that requires little care and water.

One of the reasons for its popularity in the house is probably its near indestructible qualities. This plant is also favored for its upright and erect leaf habit that matches both traditional and modern décor.

It’s in the Asparagaceae family, native to West Africa in the tropics. According to legend, it’s named after a snake. Its cactus-like properties and appearance makes the name a natural fit. It was actually named by Carl Thunberg in 1794 after Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771), the Prince of San Seviero.

With the advent of DNA studies, modern-day improvements have enabled the plant to be classed as belonging to the Dracaena genus. Botanists found that there were high numbers of genes in common between the plants.

Fans of the plant were shocked by the switch in genus – even ourselves. The resemblance to the better known plants within the Dracaena genus (think the Dragon Tree or the Corn Plant) is remote at best. It has taken a long time to get used to the new name in more casual and informal settings. In fact, the truly established genus within science is Dracaena, so we can expect it to become more and more popular in years to come.

Among architects and interior designers, especially because of its reputation for improving indoor air quality, this plant is very popular.

A number of different Sansevierias are out there which you may be able to get your hands on (and if you can you should). Several varieties are easy to find, while others are harder to find. Below are some of our favorites, some of which are quite popular, while others have more common varieties.

Trifasciata laurentii 

The Sansevieria is the most famous and easily recognised of all the Sansevierias. The leaves of this plant are traditionally used as a background to show off smaller plants with leaves or flowers. It is the modern trend to separate plants from other plants in the home and have them stand boldly in isolation.

There are times when it is used in mass, to create a fence or hedge-like effect, often in public places such as restaurants, malls/shopping arcades and coffee shops. This style might also be adopted by larger homes or offices as a way to divide sections of the space.

The leaf designs of these plants are trifasciata, which means “three bundles.”. A Laurentii cultivar usually has leaves that are edged on both sides by solid vertical yellow lines, in the center, there are two different shades of vertical zig-zag green stripes.

The Bantels Sensation is very similar to the Trifasciata laurentii because it has the same colours, but the stripes run vertically instead of going across the plant. It’s a funky twist on the traditional take. A bit new, so you’ll need to search a bit to find it.

Trifasciata or “The All Green Snakeskin Plant”

There is no Laurentii in this variety. It means that the plant is left without any of the yellow edges.

The lack of attractiveness and interest to look at makes it less desirable, although it still has the upright and hardy attitude of its cousin and the attractive horizontal green stripes. You can achieve even deeper tones by opting for Trifasciata, which is greyer, almost black in places.

Even though all Sansevieria are adaptable to whatever environment they are in, more intense light may cause the Laurentii yellow to fade. Due to its absence of yellow edges, Trifasciata thrives in shady conditions even better. Trifasciata laurentii usually becomes clear green with no yellow edges if leaf cuttings are taken.

Cylindrica or “African Spear”

The leaves of Cylindrica are upright and strong. You may be able to guess from its name that the leaves are cylindrical in shape and extremely tough.

While the newer growth tends to be fairly flexible, it also bends strongly towards light sources if grown in a dark place, but once mature they are thicker and rooted firmly into their pots. Because of its incredible strength and resistance to damage, this plant could be ideal in a place where foot traffic is high.

Many people like this unusual style alone, but its natural tendency to bend towards the light when the new flexible growth forms gets planted is exploited by nurseries, as the picture on the right below shows.

Plants grow with their leaves plaited together at various stages. Six of the fleshy leaves are used to form such a plait; however, more complex and large designs are available at an increased price.

The argument is that this trick is a fad. They might be right, but it’s still a very unique fad you have to admit. There is a drawback to this process, however, since the tips often get “knocked off” or picked off just before they’re shipped from the nursery to the shop for you to buy.

Most plants have hormones at the tops of their main stems, hormones that encourage upgrowth of their leaves. As the top has been removed, there is no growth hormone left and therefore no upward growth, which results in growth from side shoots lower down on the plant. The leaf production on Cylindrica starts from the roots since it does not produce side shoots.

Trifasciata Hahnii or “Golden Bird’s Nest”

After the attention-grabbing and elegant Sansevieria varieties before it, Hahnii is perhaps quite a humble looking one. While it is considered a robust and hardy variety, it does not have quite the curb appeal as its cousins.

There is a reason for this lack of popularity, as it doesn’t grow as tall or wide and is simply dwarfed by its more vibrant cousins.

Don’t write it off though, since it’s perfect if you want the appearance of a cactus but aren’t going to have much space, and you want variance like you find on the Laurentii. Also available in a Trifasciata form (so all the greens, but without the yellow edges). You can put it in a confined space or on a windowsill to fill in the open space.

Fernwood and Fernwood Mikado

The Sansevierias Fernwood and Fernwood Mikado both share similar looking plants and are quite modern hybrids, but they have been well received by buyers and have become popular varieties. Their slender, dainty appearance ensures that they retain their smaller cousins’ stature.

Its leaves are comparatively thin compared to the leaves that grow on Cylindrica (African Spears). The Fernwood leaves are concave and form dense clumps, often with several leaves per stem, resulting in a crooked and bushy appearance.

Mikado has cylindrical leaves and also grows in clusters, but in a much sparser manner. Their stems are solely three-lobed, so they would look much less loaded in a full pot than the Fernwood.

Both grow slowly and have distinctive mottled green markings. The Mikado is usually the tinier of the two. Their tolerance for low light is also very high.

Victoria or “Whale Fin” / “Sharkfin

Many Sansevieria plants are easy to care for and, when brought for the home, most have an architectural look that is quite striking and eye catching. But it reached another level with the Victoria.

Thin and beautiful, it’s also huge, so it’s usually sold as a single stem. The leaves have a whale- or sharkfin-like shape, hence their common names. A mature plant or those grown in low light conditions tend to have the common mottled green colour we are accustomed to seeing on most Sansevierias. There will usually be a thin red or orange outline around the edges.

The original leaf is gradually joined by a new one that emerges from beneath the soil as it unfolds. We had ours for about 6 months after producing its first “baby” or offspring.

As their rarity means they command a premium from online sellers, the Victoria variety can be exorbitantly expensive to buy. This one is stunning so don’t let the price put you off.

Whale Fin plants share the same easy going nature as Sansevieria, which means this should be hard to kill and worth the investment. You can increase the chances of yours living a long and healthy life by following the care instructions in our article.

Sansiam Shabiki

One of the new Sansevierias becoming more prominent is the Cylindrica, with its strong, thick stems and Fernwood’s growth habit. Its stems grow in random directions to create a very pointed, (literally) talking point.

If you have several offsets growing in the same pot, you can create a cluster of activity or grow one offset alone to create a living piece of art. 

The two plants complement each other and further enhance the beauty of the plant. Its growth rate is rather slow, but it is as tough as all the other varieties and will put up with substandard care with almost no complaints.

Trifasciata or “Moonshine

Moonshine is another relatively new variety in the shops. It looks just like the traditional Snake Plant with the upright leaves that are long and broad, forming clusters.

The main difference here is the leaf color has a “moonshine” appearance dropping the usual green mottled and marbled effect, and giving us an almost flat and solid light silvery green coloring. Faint bands normally exist on the leaves and the edges are outlined in a darker green to highlight the main leaf color.

Moonshine has one disadvantage. It isn’t very tolerant of very low light environments. Yes it will survive fine in such places, so don’t worry about that, but it will lose its beautiful light-colored leaves very quickly. Despite being grown in low light conditions for around three months, the plant in the picture above is now somewhat darker. However, when we first brought it, it was much lighter.

In the repotting section further below you can find a picture we took shortly after bringing it home. During that time, the colors clearly changed.

At the start of the section above, we mentioned that there are many varieties of food available. Our list is just the tip of the iceberg; as new ones become popular, we’ll continue to add them. Please send us your photos or leave your comments at the end of this piece if you have a different one than mine.


There are still many recent and interesting articles about Snake Plants.. well as other unique information from All Things Gardener..

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