Growing Concerns: Let's clear the air on 'snake plants'

Snake Plant/Sansevieria trifasciata isolated on white
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Sansevieria trifasciata, commonly referred to as mother-in-law tongue or snake plant, is a durable, easy to grow houseplant.

Grown for its foliage, the three-foot-tall plant has stiff, upright, lance shaped leaves. The plant is a succulent which stores water in the leaves. Sansevieria also stores water in its rhizomes.

Sansevieria thrives in bright light, but will tolerate low light conditions. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. The plant will require even less water during the winter and under low light conditions. With snake plant, it is better to underwater than to overwater. Fertilize during the growing season, March through September.

Although it prefers to be root-bound, it will require repotting or dividing eventually. The plant can be divided anytime during the year, but spring is the best time for a quick recovery. Snake plant can be top heavy, so adding sand to the potting soil to increase bulk density, or using a clay or ceramic pot, will help keep the plant upright after repotting.

Sansevieria can also be propagated by leaf cuttings. Cut the leaf into three inch pieces, dust the bottom edge with rooting hormone, and insert into moist sand for root and shoot development.


Indoor air can be 10 times more polluted than outdoor air, especially during the winter months. According to NASA research, Sansevieria species purify the air inside the home by removing formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. These chemicals are commonly found in carpets, upholstery, glues, dyes, paints and other building materials.

Studies have shown that houseplants can reduce indoor air pollutants by as much as 85 percent. NASA recommends 15 to 18 large houseplants for an 1,800-square-foot home.

Sansevieria uses Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) process of photosynthesis. CAM plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen at night. Studies show that higher oxygen levels promote deeper sleep. Maybe it's time to add a snake plant to the bedroom.

Sansevieria trifasciata var laurentii is a popular variation of snake plant that has yellow bands along the outer edge of the leaves.

Sansevieria Hahnii is a compact plant, referred to as a bird nest type, because the leaves grow in a short rosette. Hahnii is a great choice for a dish garden or terrarium.

Sansevieria is one of the best houseplants for beginners. The only way to kill the plant is to overwater or never water it. It can withstand any conditions, from very low light to bright light. It tolerates abuse and neglect while cleaning the air we breathe.

Robin Fruth-Dugstad is a horticulture professor at Rochester Community and Technical College with 25 years of experience gardening and landscaping. Send plant and garden questions to

Related Topics: GARDENING
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