Snake Plant and Mother-in-law’s Tongue are two common names for Sansevieria, a tall, stiff plant with lance-shaped leaves that grows throughout Florida.
I’m not a huge fan of snake plants–anything widespread and common bores me ;)– but their history as a source of marine cord fiber is an interesting one.
During World War II, researchers from the USDA and University of Florida Everglades Experiment Station worked to develop practical methods of growing, handling, harvesting and extracting fiber from Sansevieria. The initial project was based at Boynton, Florida with plantings extended to Indiantown in 1950. Emphasis of this program included evaluation of the existing species/cultivars, and genetic improvement efforts through breeding. Of the 21 Sansevieria types growing semi-wild in the area, the greatest effort was put into cross-ing S. trifasciata with S. deserti, but many hybrids known only by patent numbers were created as well. In a “twist” of bad timing, synthetic fibers rose in popularity during the ’50s and the research was terminated. Many of the unnamed plants were donated to botanic gardens, but some escaped cultivation, spreading southward. It’s not uncommon to see the “odd” specimen or two, growing along local roadsides or sidewalks!
Despite all this, my Ranchero snake plants are the boring, typical S. trifasciatas, with perhaps one atypical trait: flowering out of season!
S. trifasciata rarely bloom, and when they do, it happens in spring/summer when the plant is severely root bound. Clearly, this one didn’t get the memo!
Snake plants spread via networks of fleshy orange rhizomes that send up 2-6 sword-shaped leaves. (The next time I dig up a rhizome, I’ll take a pic for you!) As you can see in the above photo, the flowerscape is erect and slender, with clusters of tube-like flowers along the tips. When the flowers are spent, small green fruits appear, maturing into bright berries the EXACT color of the rhizomes. Nature is nothing if not full circle!
There is also a dwarf, short-leaf snake plant, S. trifasciata Hahnii. In 2010, I dug two specimens from a friend’s yard and they’ve spread quite nicely:
Commonly known as Bird’s Nest Snake Plant, this herbaceous perennial has elliptic leaves arranged in a simple rosette pattern. Many Floridians use them as ground-cover or rock garden plants because they are extremely drought tolerant and carefree re: soil type and light levels. Bird’s Nest flowers much like its taller cousin, but even more elusively! Small berries follow the flowers, but these fruits are completely inconspicuous..
Before I close, let me show you a picture of the Ranchero with the Bauhinia in full bloom in the background!!
I love November in Florida!
Until next time….