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Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) are some of the hardiest houseplants around. Also known as sansevieria or mother-in-law’s tongue (no comment on where that nickname came from), most snake plants have slender, upright leaves in variegated patterns that grow about three feet high.
A related species, Sansevieria cylindrica (African spear plant), has round—rather than flat—leaves and pointed tips. You might have seen this variety braided at your local florist or plant nursery. In its native country, wild sansevieria is a favorite food of elephants.
Because they’re so easy to grow, you can spot snake plants everywhere—restaurants, lobbies, waiting rooms—but they’re not always cared for properly. When they're in good condition, these plants can lend a lush, jungle-like feel to any space. Even better? They improve air quality in your space, particularly while you sleep—even earning the nickname "bedroom plant" because of the oxygen they give off at night.
- Botanical Name: Sansevieria trifasciata
- Common Name: Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue
- Plant Type: Succulent, evergreen perennial
- Mature Size: 3–8 feet high
- Sun Exposure: Indirect sunlight
- Soil Type: Free-draining soil (cactus or succulent mix)
- Soil pH: 4.5–7.0
- Toxicity: Toxic
Snake plants do best in bright, indirect light, but they can thrive in low-light spaces and sometimes tolerate direct sun. The amount of water your snake plant needs is relative to how much light it gets, so take that into consideration as you choose its place. More light means it'll need more frequent (but still rare) waterings, while plants in dimmer areas will need less water.
Fertilize your snake plant every two to three months. They can be repotted during any season, though they can go three or four years before repotting in a larger vessel with fresh soil.
Best Growing Conditions for Snake Plants
Snake plants can tolerate most light levels and can even survive drought-like conditions. They don't grow well in chilly temperatures, however, so keep them in a space above 65 degrees.
These plants need very little water overall. During spring and summer, allow them to dry out between waterings. In winter, water less—just enough to keep the leaves from getting shriveled. Since soggy soil can cause root rot, use a pot made from terracotta or another porous material. When you do water your snake plant, do so thoroughly.
Pot your snake plant in a free-draining potting mix. A soilless mix, such as one for cacti, succulents, palms, and citrus, is best. Many hardware stores keep cactus soil in stock year-round, but you can also find soilless potting mix at your local nursery or garden center. Make your own by mixing sand, peat moss, and vermiculite or perlite in equal amounts.
For proper drainage, move your snake plant to a sink, a bathtub, or outside when you water it so excess water drains completely. This ensures your plant isn't getting too much moisture from sitting in wet soil.
Snake Plant Varieties
When you think of snake plants with signature yellow edges, Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii' is likely the variety that comes to mind. In addition to its round-leafed cousin, Sansevieria cylindrica, there are also dwarf, solid-colored, and other varieties of this household favorite.
Sansevieria trifasciata, native to West Africa, is a common all-green variety that can grow to about three feet high. Sansevieria gracilis, on the other hand, is a smaller snake plant that tends to stay under 18 inches in height. Meanwhile, Sanseveria canaliculate grows in round, tall, singular spears. You'll also find common varieties like Sansevieria fischeri (small dark leaves), Sansevieria masoniana (large circular leaves), and Sansevieria patens (short vibrant-green leaves).
How to Propagate Snake Plants
There are two ways to propagate snake plants: by rhizome division or leaf cuttings. You might divide up your plant when up-potting it in the spring or summer, but this resilient plant can be easily repotted year-round.
How to Propagate Snake Plants by Rhizome Division
Step 1: Remove your snake plant from the pot, and use your hands to gently remove the soil from the rhizomes (stems with protruding roots).
Step 2: Use a sharp, clean gardening blade to separate the rhizomes.
Step 3: Repot rhizomes into a new container with fresh soil. A larger container is best to give your plant room to grow.
How to Propagate Snake Plants by Leaf Cuttings
Most snake plants can be propagated this way without problems, but some varieties will lose their signature foliage markings when cutting leaves. If your plant has yellow edges (rather than the all-green variety), it's better to propagate by division to maintain its special look.
Step 1: Cut a leaf from your plant at a slight angle into three-inch sections. Take care to keep the sections in their original orientation until Step 3.
Step 2: Fill a small pot with sand.
Step 3: Insert sections of leaves into the sand vertically, with the cut end pointing down, so that half an inch to one inch of the leaf is beneath the soil.
Step 4: Water often enough to keep the soil only slightly moist. You should see new shoots emerge in four to eight weeks.
Common Growing Problems
While these easy-care plants thrive under most conditions, it's important to know the warning signs that indicate your plant needs extra care. Snake plants can be sensitive to low temperatures. Brown leaf edges mean that your space is too cool. If you see these, move your plant to a warmer area in your space. Shriveled leaves indicate that your snake plant isn't getting enough water. Give it a thorough soak, and keep an eye on the plant to avoid letting it go too long between waterings.
You're more likely to encounter the symptoms of overwatering—drooping, yellowing, or mushy leaves—when the roots below the surface are rotting due to too much soil moisture. Because root rot begins below the soil where you can't see it, it's best to let your plant dry out completely between waterings. If your plant shows signs of root rot, remove it from the pot, and start fresh with a new soilless mixture. Cut away any brown, mushy roots or leaves, and repot healthy rhizomes in the fresh mixture. If the rhizomes can’t be saved, discard them. Save a few healthy leaves, and use them to propagate new snake plants.
Is Snake Plant Toxic?
Relatives of this plant may be a favorite meal for elephants, but snake plants are toxic to dogs and cats, so keep them far out of reach of your four-legged friends. Ingestion of snake plant leaves can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.