Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens


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Hey All – Just wanted to share this great article from our View editor, Rita Lynn.  Enjoy!

See you in the gardens,




I have had a soft spot for Sanseviera for many years.  It started when, as one of a group of therapists, I moved into an office space that had been unoccupied for several months.  On a counter in one corner was a small, puny Sansevieria in an old, broken coffee cup.  I assumed the plant belonged to someone else, so I essentially ignored it.  Several months later I discovered that everyone else had ignored the plant as well and that no one had even watered it.  I “adopted” the poor thing, and now, many years later, it continues to flourish.  Having been divided and repotted numerous times over the years, I currently have three pots-full, one of which is pictured with this article (left photo).  With a little indirect light and occasional watering, it proudly gives life to a space that needs just the accent that such a plant is able to provide.

My interest in Sansevieria was renewed about a year ago when I saw it growing wild – like grass along the side of paths and roads – in the Virgin Islands (right photo).  On a hike, a park ranger explained that former sugar plantation slaves used the fibers from the plants to make string.  Indeed, the plant was originally cultivated for its fiber, hence one of its common names, bowstring hemp.

Sansevieria, a genus with many species, is native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The species we most often see – Sansevieria trifasciata, the one we affectionately call Mother-in-Law’s Tongue or Snake Plant – is native to dry regions of Africa.  A very similar plant, Sansevieria hyacinthoides, has naturalized in places such as the Virgin Islands and is actually identified as an invasive plant in some areas of Florida.  These plants spread by their vigorous rhizomes which are so fast-growing and strong that, in the case of a plant in a container, it can crack the pot.  As a houseplant it is rarely bothered by disease or insects pests, it tolerates low light conditions and almost any kind of soil, and just about the only way it can be killed is by overwatering.  Besides being almost indestructible, it is effective in removing various toxins from the air in our enclosed home and work environments.

You can propagate Sansevieria simply by dividing the rhizomes, taking a section of the leaves and roots and replanting them.  A new plant will also grow from a leaf cutting if you are careful to orient the leaf in its original growing direction.  This method will take several weeks, however, and if you are rooting a variegated cultivar, you might lose the variegation.

Grandma probably had a Sansevieria in her parlor.  You might even have that plant, or one grown from its roots, in your collection.  Even if you kill just about every other houseplant, you should be able, provided you don’t give it too much water, to enjoy this one.  Put it somewhere in the house where no other plant would survive, and thank it for its steadfastness.


“Sansevieria (Snake Plant),” http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/palette/100110.html

“Mother-In-Law Tongues and Others – Sansevieria,” http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu/SOM/SOM-sansevieria.shtml

“Bowstring Hemp,” http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/398

“Fiber and Fiber Plants,” http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/botany/fibers.htm , (scroll down to paragraph on bowstring hemp).


Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 8, 2012 at 6:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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