Sansevieria can lay true claim to a princely title. The name Sansevieria honors a titled man, the Prince of Sanseviero, who was born in Naples in 1710 and died in 1771. Isn't it a shame that a plant has been nicknamed "mother-in-law's tongue"? And the alternative common name, Snake Plant, is scarcely better, considering the revulsion many people feel toward snakes.
A florist's dish garden has hardly ever been made without incorporating Sansevieria. Its erect variegated leaves provide a vertical accent among the other foliage plants and it is tolerant of low light and the scant attention to which such gardens are frequently subjected.
Taken out of the dish garden and given a pot of its own, Sansevieria will send up new shoots from the thick root stock, eventually attaining a height of 30 inches and more, with leaves 2 or 3 inches broad. It is unpredictable but with good care it will produce a spike of small greenish-white fragrant flowers.
Sansevieria Trifasciata is the common snake plant. Its thick, sword-like leaves, stripped horizontally in shades of green, suggest the name. The variety laurentii is probably the most popular and most familiar; its leaves are bordered with a broad band of yellow.
Sansevieria Trifasciata 'Hahni' is a slow-growing rosotte of dark green leaves. With a height of 4 to 6 inches and a spread of 6 to 8 inches, it is especially suitable for table or planter use. Golden Hahni, Silver Hahni and Future are varieties worth searching for at florist shops and garden centers. The Hahni types are frequently called "Birds Nest."
The very fact that Sansevieria are so durable apparently leads people to forget them. Naturally, they will do better is given proper care.
Sansevieria grows well in any general purpose potting soil. It likes to be potbound and can remain 3 to 5 years in the same pot with annual top-dressing of some fresh soil. It does not go dormant but grows more slowly from October to February. During active growth in warmer months it can be given a balanced houseplant fertilizer every 2 to 3 months, following the manufacturer's directions.
Sansevieria can go for long periods with little or no water, which may explain its having been dubbed "pot plant for forgetful people." The best care is to allow the soil to become almost dry between thorough waterings. Temperatures comfortable for use are suitable. East or west window light is advantageous but Sansevieria will tolerate a wide range of light conditions, continuing to grow satisfactorily. For this reason, 'Hahni' can be recommendd as a small plant for an interior planter, end table ot bookcase not necessarily located near a window. A clump of Sansevieria Trifasciata (snake plant) in one jardiniere serves admirably in a location needing a plant but short on light.
Sansevierias are propagated by division or by leaf cuttings. When the plant fills its pot it can be divided simply by cutting the root stock, separating and repotting the indiviidual shoots.
Leaf cuttings of Sansevierias are made from pieces of the leaf. Sever a leaf from the plant, cut it into horizontal sections and insert the pieces into moist sand; the cutting must be "right side up", that is, the base is set in the sand; it is advisable to mark the top and the base as the leaf is cut in order to avoid mistakes. Place the propagating container in a shaded place and keep the sand moist. Each piece will send out new roots and leaves, which when about 4 inches tall can be servered from the cut leaf and potted.
Leaf cuttings of Sansevieria Trifasciata Laurentii will not produce plants like the parent plant; when propagated this way Laurentii reverts to the plain green leaf form.
Sansevieria is a member of the Lily family. It is native to tropical Africa, which explains its tough, drough-resistant type of growth. Its durability despite neglect has made it an indoor favorite for generations.