Questions on: Sanseveria

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: My exterior sanseveria plants have been thriving under the same growing conditions for eight years. Almost overnight, many of the stalks lost their chlorophyll and are dotted with green or yellow spots. My landscaper thinks it may be a fungus, but he never has seen this happen. The stalks appear a bit less rigid than the healthy ones. What is wrong and what can be done to save them? (e-mail reference)

A: Iím not sure what the problem is. The plants may be pot-bound and not getting enough nutrients or rot developed. Try dividing the plant at the crown and toss out anything that appears rotted or take leaf cuttings from healthy stock and root them.


Q: I was searching the Web to find out how much to water a sanseveria. I cut some large leaves off and was going to throw them away, but a co-worker took them and stuck them in water to see what would happen. To my amazement, they rooted, but it took awhile. We planted two babies in pots, but theyíre not doing much. I have accused my co-worker of overwatering. I cut off another big leaf and stuck it in water and the new baby is growing past the container, which is about 8 feet tall. So rooting this plant in water works extremely well! (e-mail reference)

A: The cultural practice that will kill this plant is overwatering, but can be used in the pure form to root the plant by using a cutting. Strange, but true. Thanks for letting me know about your success!


Q: I have a Sansevieria plant (Mother-in-law tongue) that is the S. trifasciata Laurenti. I have had it for many years and I have never known it to bloom before, but it is blooming now. My parents and aunt, for as long as I can remember, never had one that bloomed. I took pictures to the town cafť to see if anyone had ever known of the plant to bloom, but all said no. Some said that it might die because some plants do that before they die. Will it die? If so, is there a way I can save it? I donít want to lose it because it belonged to my mother who has passed away. If I propagate the plant, will it still have the stripes on the leaves like the old plant? I heard it would not. (Jud, N.D.)

A: It will not die; just cut the flower stalk off. It all depends on the propagation method. With leaf cuttings, the stripes will be lost; if you divide the crown, the stripes will be retained.


Q: I am trying to find the correct spelling for the scientific name of mother-in-law's tongue. Is it Sanseviera trifasciator? My horticulturist wrote it down, but unfortunately, I cannot read his writing and he is not available to answer. (E-mail reference)

A: You are close, but not quite 100 percent. The correct spelling of the snake plant, or mother-in-law's tongue is Sansevieria trifasciata. Itís a good plant for people with poor memories for when the plants get watered!


Q: I've saved two stems from a rotted Sanseveria cylindrica plant and want to root them. Do I need to let the ends dry out? I've read conflicting things, from several hours to a week. (E-mail reference)

A: You raise an interesting point. I never knew there were conflicting opinions. When I taught the plant propagation class, we would take leaf cuttings and, making sure we did not reverse the polarity, cut the base straight across, the top with a slanting cut, and insert the straight end into the rooting medium, with no waiting and with success. Leaf cuttings of Sansaveria take a long time to "root" because they actually do not! What happens, is they form a rhizome from that cutting, and from that, a new leaf emerges, with the old leaf eventually disintegrating.


Q: Can you help me with a problem I'm having with my Sansevieria plant? The leaves are "tipping over," which I read about in Hortiscope, but also when I go to put them upright they pull right out of the soil with the slightest of tugs. I've taken these "floppy" leaves out of the pot and put them in a pitcher of water in hopes of rooting them, but I'm not sure if this is the way it's done with this kind of plant. (E-mail reference, St. Louis, Mo.)

A: The "floppy" syndrome of the Sansevieria plant is due to overwatering during the winter months, causing some of the roots to rot off. Take a leaf cutting about 6 inches long from one of the "tongues," insert it in a 50:50 sand/peat mixture and allow it to develop a new individual. The cutting will not be a part of the new plant, so once the new one develops sufficiently, cut the original cutting off and repot. Alter your watering practices. During the winter the plant needs water only every two months; in the spring through autumn water moderately, allowing the media to barely dry between each watering. Avoid getting water on the crown of the plant. Following this practice, the plant should develop a root system that should just about crack the container it is growing in! When it does become pot-bound, divide and repot.


Q: Can you please tell us if the "sanseveria" plant would be commonly considered a succulent? We have a bet going and are wondering who is right. (e-mail)

A: Nope! They don't require much water, but their leaves are not water storage organs like the other succulents, which would include such plants as agave, aloe, kalanchoe and the cacti.

Now I have made someone happy and someone angry! I hope not much money was wagered.


Q. I recently tried to propagate the snake plant, but I had no luck. I followed the various directions in a variety of books as best I could, except I used potting soil when some recommended using sand as a propagation medium. Have you any personal experience with the sansevieria? (Fargo, N.D., e-mail)

A. Sansevieria is relatively easy to propagate. If you use leaf cuttings, they must be in a sand medium to keep the end from rotting. If the specimen is variegated, the variegation will be lost on the new growth coming up. In other words, the original leaf cutting does not become a permanent part of the propagated plant, but will simply atrophy.

The other way to propagate is via division of the short rhizomes. The variegation in the leaf will not be lost with this method of propagation. Again, a sand based medium is needed, or at least one that is sterile and freely draining.

Also, you can refer to "Home Propagation Techniques" (NCR-274).


Q. Though my gardening limits itself to sansevieria indoors and greenhouse petunias for outdoor pots, your column in the Farmers' Forum always interests me, especially that list of elm varieties resistant to Dutch elm disease. (Moorhead, Minn.)

[EDITORS: The following poem was included with the preceding correspondence.]

Garden Columnist

The garden columnist requests
that readers, when submitting pests
or plants to be identified,
observe the following simple guide.
Our staff has sometimes been appalled
by envelopes whose contents crawled,
and house plants in our office need
no plaguey parasites to feed.
Bugs should be dead. Use alcohol,
the rubbing kind, inside a small
vial of plastic sealed inside
a bubble envelope. Leaves dried,
but not composted, neatly pressed
between two tissues, travel best
in padded ziplocks, well addressed
"Handle With Care." If ground like spice,
plants give no clue to guide advice.
For telling wintergreen from kelp,
your detailed observations help.
No answer? Well, your query came
no zip code, street, or even name.
We are not psychics to unmask
our questioners by what they ask.
Please, send good evidence, sole basis
for solving horticultural cases.

A. Thank you for so clearly saying what I rambled on about! I admire anyone who can put together words like you did. Good luck with you sansevieria and petunias!


Q: I was wondering why I can't get my otherwise healthy looking sansevieria to stand up straight. The leaves fall over like they are tired. I've had the plant for years.
What am I doing wrong? (e-mail)

A: Sansevieria tipping over is quite common because of a poor root system or a vascular disease. I'd suggest taking leaf cuttings and rooting them for
some new, more vigorous plants. Or, you might want to consider repotting the plant in a clay pot the next nominal size larger. If you don't want to do
this, you could simply topdress the plant with a sand/potting soil mixture which will help to keep the plant in an upright position.


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