I once had a potted sansevieria, which sat in the kitchen under the brightly lit window. It must have been the right spot, because after growing well for several years, it decided to flower, producing a stem of large white bells with an overwhelming perfume.

That plant has long gone but sansevieria (Sansevieria trifasciata), also known as mother-in-law’s tongue and snake plant, has regained its standing as a popular and desirable indoor plant. It is grown not for those fragrant flowers, but for its tall, rigid green and variegated leaves and its complete tolerance of neglect.

It grows from a rhizome, which helps it survive adversity, and can reach over 1.5m high, although it’s usually seen with leaves about 90cm long. Clumps can be 90cm wide.

Best growing conditions

Sansevieria enjoys bright light but not direct sun, which can damage its handsome leaves, and needs watering only when the potting mix is dry. Fertilise in spring and wipe the leaves from time to time to remove any dust.

It needs to be repotted occasionally, as its tall leafy growth can get top heavy, causing it to topple over, and sometimes its expanding root system can split its container.

If this happens, it is time to invest in a new, larger pot and a fresh bag of potting mix such as a cactus and succulent mix. Top the pot with a layer of fine gravel to act as mulch.

Displaying plants

This plant looks striking grown in a large pot or planted into individual pots that are grouped together. Alternatively, in a large pot, team its vertical green, cream and yellow growth with cascading plants such as chain of hearts (Ceropegia woodii) or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), or rosette-forming plants such as succulents.

Sansevieria is also grown as an outdoor plant in warm climates and is popular in low maintenance gardens, narrow beds, courtyards or next to pavers or gravel surfaces. It needs little care outdoors other than well-drained soil. Indeed, it grows so easily that it can become weedy if allowed to escape from gardens. It is an environmental weed in some parts of coastal Queensland. To avoid weediness, confine it to a pot indoors.


Top varieties

To add to the interest and collectable appeal of this indoor plant there are many species and varieties with distinctively patterned, oddly shaped or compact leaves. Here are some to look out for:

  • Cylindrica (Sansevieria cylindrica) has thick, rounded, spear-like green leaves marked with cream. These leaves can be braided together as a feature. Plants grow to around 40cm or higher.
  • ‘Golden Hahnii’ has broad but compact stiff green leaves heavily marked with yellow bands. It grows to around 30cm high.
  • ‘Laurentii’ is the most widely grown variety and the starting point for most gardeners. It has flat dark green leaves with lighter patterning and golden stripes along the leaf edge. It grows to around 1m high.
  • ‘Moonshine’ has broad silvery green variegated leaves edged with dark green. It grows to around 30-40cm high.
  • ‘Robusta’ is a compact form with broad, green leaves mottled with silver. It is a compact plant to around 40cm high.
  • ‘Silver Sword’ has tall upright silver and green leaves. It grows to 60cm high.
  • ‘Superba’ is a compact form with broad patterned leaves. It grows to around 30cm high.