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Houseplants to discover - Snake Plant or Mother-in-law’s Tongue

Sansevieria trifasciata

This is a very popular houseplant, known for its tolerance of harsh conditions where other plants fail. It's the ideal choice for the beginner gardener, since success is essentially guaranteed.

The snake plant is a succulent plant composed of a very dense rosette bearing up to six long, upright, pointed leaves. They are sword-shaped, very thick and leathery and measure up to 90 cm (3 feet) in height. The average pot actually contains several plants which, in addition, produce suckers from a thick underground rhizome. Thus, the plant becomes denser and denser over time, filling its pot.

The name snake plant comes from the bands of gray-green mottling on the very dark green leaf, said to resemble the skin of a snake. Its alternate name comes from the leaves, said to be pointed like a mother-in-law's tongue.

The snake plant only blooms when the plant is fully mature and receives very good light, but when it does, the upright flower stalk, bearing dozens of greenish-yellow to white flowers, is intensely and beautifully scented, but only at night.

There are many varieties of snake plant, notably with foliage variously streaked with white or yellow, plus dwarf varieties, with short, broad leaves, called bird's nest snake plants.


This plant tolerates all light conditions, from full sun to shade, but prefers intense to medium lighting. It will survive in deep shade, but will put on little growth.


Allow the potting soil to dry out fairly thoroughly, as this plant will not tolerate constantly moist soil. To tell when to water, insert an index finger into the soil up to the second joint: if the soil is dry, water abundantly.


From spring to early fall, apply an all-purpose or cactus and succulent fertilizer at a quarter of the recommended rate.


Normal indoor temperatures suit this plant perfectly. Aim for a minimum of 10ºC (50ºF). It will enjoy spending the summer outside in a shaded location.


This plant tolerates all levels of humidity and is not damaged by dry air.


Every 4 or 5 years, using cactus and succulent or foliage plant potting mix.


You can remove and pot up offsets at any season or take leaf cuttings. You can even cut a leaf into sections and each will give a new plant, albeit very slowly.


The foliage contains saponins which make it slightly toxic to humans, dogs and cats.

Further Information

Floppy leaves indicate the plant is not receiving as much light as it would like. A discreet stake may be necessary.