Sansevieria trifasciata

Snake plant
A variegated cultivar of Sansevieria trifasciata
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae
Genus: Sansevieria
Species: S. trifasciata
Binomial name
Sansevieria trifasciata

Sansevieria laurentii

Sansevieria trifasciata, also called viper's bowstring hemp,[2] snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue or Saint George's sword (in Brazil) is a species of flowering plant in the family Asparagaceae, native to tropical West Africa from Nigeria east to the Congo.


It is an evergreen perennial plant forming dense stands, spreading by way of its creeping rhizome, which is sometimes above ground, sometimes underground. Its stiff leaves grow vertically from a basal rosette. Mature leaves are dark green with light gray-green cross-banding and usually range between 70–90 centimetres (28–35 in) long and 5–6 centimetres (2.0–2.4 in) wide.

The specific epithet trifasciata means "three bundles".[3]


Sansevieria trifasciata in flower

It is commonly called the snake plant (not to be confused with the very similarly named Nassauvia serpens), because of the shape of its leaves, or mother-in-law's tongue because of their sharpness. In China, it is known as hǔwěilán (虎尾兰, tiger's tail orchid). In Japan, it is called tiger's tail (とらのお). In Turkey it is known as Paşa Kılıcı (pasha sword). A yellow-tipped variant is associated with Oya, the female orisha of storms. In Africa, the plant is used as a protective charm against evil or bewitchment. In Nigeria it is commonly linked with Ogoun, the Orisha of war, and is used in rituals to remove the evil eye. In Brazil it is commonly known as espada de São Jorge (sword of Saint George) who by syncretism is also associated with Ogoun.

Cultivation and uses

Like some other members of its genus, S. trifasciata yields bowstring hemp, a strong plant fiber once used to make bowstrings.

It is now used predominantly as an ornamental plant, outdoors in warmer climates, and indoors as a houseplant in cooler climates. It is popular as a houseplant because it is tolerant of low light levels and irregular watering; during winter it needs only one watering every couple of months. It will rot easily if overwatered.[4]

Numerous cultivars have been selected, many of them for variegated foliage with yellow or silvery-white stripes on the leaf margins. Popular cultivars include 'Compacta', 'Goldiana', 'Hahnii', 'Laurentii', 'Silbersee', and 'Silver Hahnii'. 'Hahnii' was discovered in 1939 by William W. Smith, Jr. in the Crescent Nursery Company, New Orleans, Louisiana. The 1941 patent was assigned to Sylvan Frank Hahn, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[5]

The variety S. trifasciata var. laurentii and the cultivar 'Bantel's Sensation' have both gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[6][7]

It can be propagated by cuttings or by dividing the rhizome. The first method has the disadvantage that the variegation will be lost.

Sansevieria trifasciata at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago

S. trifasciata is considered by some authorities as a potential weed in Australia, although widely used as an ornamental, in both the tropics outdoors in both pots and garden beds and as an indoor plant in temperate areas.[8]

The plant contains saponins which are mildly toxic to dogs and cats and can lead to gastrointestinal upset if consumed.[9]


  1. "Sansevieria trifasciata". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2012-12-31.
  2. "Sanseviera trifasciata". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  3. Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. p. 224. ISBN 9781845337315.
  4. "Mother-in-Law's Tongue or Snake Plant". Retrieved 2010-03-04.
  5. Smith, William Walter. "Sansevieria". Plant Patent 470. United States Patent Office. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  6. "Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii (v) AGM". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  7. "Sansevieria trifasciata 'Bantel's Sensation' AGM". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  8. S. Csurhes and R. Edwards (1998). "Potential environmental weeds in Australia: Candidate species for preventative control" (PDF). Queensland Department of Natural Resources. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 10, 2007. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  9. "Mother-in-Law's Tongue". ASPCA.
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