I’ve never come across a plant with as many different names as the Snake Plant. Across Europe, it’s called “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue” and “Saint Georges Sword”. In Japan they call it “Tiger’s Tail”, and it goes by “Cow’s Tongue” in Puerto Rico.
Addressing this plant by its scientific name is equally murky – it used to be classified under the genus Sansevieria, but in 2017 scientific studies proved that it’s actually a member of the Dracaena genus.
It’s like that one friend who told always told everyone they were Irish, only to take a DNA test and discover they’re actually Greek or something.
I’ll keep it simple and just call them Snake Plants.
Everyone loves a Snake Plant. They’re striking, low maintenance, and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Here’s how to make your Snake Plant as happy and healthy as it can be.
Types of Snake Plants
There are more than 70 different species of Snake Plants, but they’re not all commonly utilized as houseplants. The most common domesticated cultivar is Dracaena trifasciata, which grows broad blades up towards the sky. Another popular cultivator is cylindrica, which grows in – you guessed it – cylinder-shaped spikes. Dwarf varieties grow in a rosette shape close to the ground. They all come in many colors, from the yellow golden hahnii and baby blue moonshine, to the deep emerald fischeri and striped cleopatra. My personal favorite is the Whale Fin, or masoniana, which grows as one huge blue-gray leaf pointing straight up.
These Dracaenas are native to West Africa, South Asia, and Madagascar. Softer-leaved, dark green Snake Plants like the triasciata like a shadier, more humid tropical forest climate. Cultivars with harder, paler leaves, like the cylindrica are more adapted for life in the dry, hot, rocky desert.
How to Care for a Snake Plant
Potting & Soil
Snake plants are not picky about their soil, but a mixture of regular potting soil and cactus mix is best. All snake plants grow from tuberous roots that spread new growth out across open ground. Their roots are thick – great at storing water. The roots don’t need much room, either. They like to be tight in their container. Never use a pot that doesn’t have a drainage hole. A large Snake Plant can happily live in a small, shallow pot.
These plants are known for being low-light tolerant. As long as a few hours of light hits them daily they’ll live. However, if you want to see your Snake Plant grow you’ll have to give it a bit more sun. Medium, indirect light is best. Direct sunlight, especially in the summer, can burn the leaves of a Snake Plant that normally lives indoors.
As natives to tropical regions of the world, Snake Plants have adapted to be expert water hoarders. Their large leaves hold water, as do their thick, tuberous roots. That being said, these plants are very drought tolerant. They can go weeks or even months without any water and be fine. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the soil in their pot is 100% dry before giving them a good soak. Mine get watered every 2 weeks in the summer and once a month in the winter.
How to Propagate a Snake Plant
Snake plants are easy to propagate, but only if you’re patient. New plants grow very slowly.
If you want to make multiple large plants out of one large plant, the easiest thing to do is divide the plant up at the roots and simply repot it into multiple pots. You can plant as few as one shoot of blades per pot, but I think at least 3 or 4 together look best.
If you don’t want to or can’t split the plant up at the roots, the best way to propagate a Snake Plant is by taking cuttings and rooting them in water.
Cut the blade into 2-inch sections, rinse off with room temperature water, and put them in a glass (making sure the downside is down) with about ½ inch of water. But this glass in indirect sun and roots will grow. Slowly. Take the cuttings out and rinse them off and replace the water every few days to avoid slimy yuckiness.
Once roots are an inch or two long, you might see a new blade forming. At this point you should plant the cuttings in potting soil (mixed with cactus mix). Leave them in indirect light and keep the soil slightly moist for a month before switching to a regular Snake Plant watering schedule.
Troubleshooting Snake Plants
As mentioned before, Snake Plants will not tolerate direct summer sun if they’re used to living indoors. A sunburnt Snake Plant has crispy brown spots and might lose entire leaves. Bring it out of the sun.
If your Snake Plant blades are curling on the edges and they’re supposed to be straight, it needs more water. Give it a good soak!
When Snake Plant’s blades flop over or turn yellow, it’s overwatered. Dry it out if you can, but if it’s really soaked and there is no drainage hole, you might want to re-pot.
Always keep your Snake Plant clean! This will keep fungus and other pests away, and keep your plant looking beautiful. Wipe the blades with a wet cloth or rinse the whole thing in the tub when you water it.
There’s a long list of reasons why Snake Plants are so popular. As you learned from this blog, they’re super easy to take care of. They live for decades and don’t mind neglect. They’re on Nasa’s list of plants that are really good at purifying the air, and they look like something out of a Dr. Suess book.
How many Snake Plants are in your collection?