A close up image of a snake plant emphasizing its hearty vertical leaves.
Snake plant’s common name derives from the shape and markings of the leaves, but it’s really a friendly houseplant that needs little management. Photo by H. N. Kolich, UGA Extension

Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

There is a portion of a wall in our living room that is bare and is a source of aggravation for beloved husband. We’ve considered and experimented with different furniture items but haven’t found the thing that’s just right. The one we hoped would work, a tri-level plant stand, failed when the various potted plants died due to the low level of light.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed dramatic, towering plantings of Dracaena trifasciata decorating the interior spaces of several local businesses. This houseplant goes by many names. My grandmother grew this plant – on a less spectacular scale – and called it “Mother-in-law’s tongue” because, she said, the leaves are sharp and long. It is also commonly known as snake plant because the leaf shape and markings resemble snakes; and bowstring hemp because cords, ropes, and bowstrings are made from the strong, waterproof fibers. Until recently, it was scientifically named Sansevieria trifasciata, but in 2017, after genetic testing proved it is a member of the Dracaena genus, it received a new name. Retailers haven’t fully embraced the change, so plant information label may list either name.

The important thing is that snake plants live and grow in low-light conditions, and their straight, upright leaves can reach 4 feet tall. This plant might just solve the aggravating issue of the annoying bare wall.

There are many cultivars of D. trifasciata with differences in size (dwarf to 4-feet tall), leaf width, and leaf markings, but the basic form is a clump of erect, stemless leaves. A member of the asparagus family, snake plant is native to tropical western Africa, where it will flower and produce berries. Flowering and fruiting rarely happens with snake plants grown indoors.

A small potted snake plant.
Some cultivars of Dracaena trifasciata are dwarf plants that grow only 6-7 inches tall, while the leaves of others reach heights of 2-4 feet. Photo by H. N. Kolich, UGA Extension

Low maintenance requirements make snake plants popular as houseplants. They can tolerate a range of light, from very low to bright, indirect exposure. They are adapted to the low humidity and normal temperature ranges of homes and businesses. They have few pests, and overwatering may be biggest disease threat. The roots will rot in soggy soil.

Snake plants are long-lived and prefer being root-bound in the pot. They will need to be repotted every few years into a larger pot as they grow, however, as the roots have been known to bust pots. Use a quick-draining potting media and choose a heavy-weight pot to prevent taller plants from toppling over.

Other benefits of snake plants include their ability to remove certain indoor pollutants from the air and add fresh oxygen to the room. They are easy to propagate from leaf cuttings or by division of plants during repotting. Additionally, research has shown that exposure to plants – whether indoors or out – helps reduce stress. I’m hoping that adding a snake plant to my living room will also remove a particular aggravation from our household.

Posted in: