Sansevieria, Tall and Small

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.

Ranchero Snake Plants, Sansevieria trifasciata, 11/12/13

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!

Ranchero Snake Plants, Sansevieria trifasciata, in bloom, 11/12/13

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:

 Sansevieria trifasciata Hahnii, 11/12/13

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!!

Ranchero with Bauhinina in Bloom in the background, 11/12/13

I love November in Florida!

Until next time….

🙂 🙂 🙂

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16 thoughts on “Sansevieria, Tall and Small

  1. I have kept mother-in-law’s tongue as a house plant. When I was on Grand Turk Island, I visited the cemetery on my day off. I was so surprised to find this plant growing there as plentiful as grass! A bit harder to walk through, in sandals, however.

  2. GREAT POST. My Sanseveria’s have been having some issues up here. They did fine in Mississippi. The Hahnii plants WERE great, but not now. My taller one did start flowering in May of 2012. That pot is still doing OK.

  3. Living in the cooler NW with wet winters, I grew Sanseveria in a pot. I got bored with it too but no matter how I neglected it, it would not die. I finally gave it away when we moved houses. After visiting Florida a few years ago, I realized how many “house plants” are really tropicals that grow outdoors. Much more fun to see them in their spreaded splendor where they belong.

  4. I really like your Ranchero snake plants! They remind me of our striped grasses. I like the Bird’s Nest too and you know I am going to say they remind me of hosta but I can see they have thick leaves? I would love November in Florida too.. 🙂

    • Hello!
      Yes, November is one of the best months, although this past week has been seriously windy! I actually had to move quite a few tall potted plants into the garage because they kept knocking over.

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