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April Plant of the Month - Sansevierias

The Plant List includes 131 scientific names for Sansevieria — 66 are accepted species names. Though originally placed in Lilliacea, they are now in Asparagacea. Sansevierias generally can be divided into one of two categories: those with hard leaves and those with softer leaves.The hard-leaf varieties are well-suited to desert environments while the softer ones grow in more tropical/subtropical settings.

One very attractive quality of Sansevierias is their wide variety of shapes, colors, and growth patterns. Sizes range from tiny two-inch leaves to the huge S. kirkii “Superclone” with leaves over six feet long. Most people are familiar with S. trifasciata, aka “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue,” “Snake Plant,” or “Viper’s Bowstring,” a great plant and valued in numerous cultures for its beauty, durability, and air quality control. However, to stop there would be sad as this family holds many amazing plants.

Sansevierias flower erratically, and I have had numerous people tell me that they have never seen one bloom. I can almost always find one blooming somewhere in my collection, sending out soft fragrance at night to attract moths, their traditional pollinator. They rarely set seed, so propagation normally is by division or leaf cuttings, a quick and easy way to more plants.

Cultivation of Sansevierias is very easy.I have told people that they are like fake plants, only better, because they are real.The plants enjoy warm places with bright light and regular watering. However, they will tolerate, and survive nicely, in cool,dark corners where they are neglected for months on end. I had a large S. kirkii "copper tone" in an office with little natural light for five years, during which time it was watered about five times. It survived and went on to a happy life when returned home to more ideal conditions. As the hard leaf varieties are desert dwellers, they can tolerate dryer conditions than the soft leaf varieties.

If you want them to grow faster, provide more light and water; if you want them to grow slow, don’t. It’s that easy. They will grow in just about any potting medium. If you water more, they need well-draining soil to prevent rotting,especially with the softer leaf varieties.

Sansevierias have a long history in cultivation for a variety of reasons. In Africa, they have been used in fiber production for rope, as well as other uses. Some species also are believed to have medicinal qualities with sap being used as an antiseptic and leaves as bandages. In Asian cultures, they also are prized, especially S. trifasciata, and are often gifted at the opening of new businesses to bring good luck and prosperity. In Italy, they are used in restaurants as they are thought to mitigate the odor of garlic and anchovies. There may be some truth in this as NASA Clean Air studies have found them to remove various toxins from the environment.

In conclusion, Sansevierias are great plants for so many reasons. I love them because their beauty and resilience never cease to amaze, they are easy to propagate, and they

will grow just about anywhere. The plants that don’t know how to die!


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