Sansevieria is commonly grown as a house plant in cooler, northern hemisphere climates, although it grows outdoors readily in tropical and subtropical regions. It is native to dry and rocky regions of Indonesia, Africa, Madagascar and India.
Commonly known as the snake plant, the snakeskin plant, bowstring hemp or mother-in-law’s tongue, Sansevieria is now in fact another common name by which we know this plant. This is because the genus Sansevieria was incorporated into the Dracaena genus in 2017. This was as a result of DNA analysis that found that Sansevieria was so closely related to Dracaena that it could not be classified as a seperate genus.
This means that the botanical name of the plants listed below as Sansevieria is technically now begins with Dracaena instead of Sansevieria. However, as many people still know the plants as Sansevieria, and search for information about them under that name, we have left the references below as Sansevieria.
So, having covered the name change, how many types of Sansevieria are there?
The answer, according to the most recent edition of the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, (featured in my list of top books for gardeners) is that there are 61 different species of Sansevieria. There are around 25-30 different varieties that are typically grown as house plants.
The most commonly grown Sansevieria is Sanseveria trifasciata laurentii. This is the variety featured in the image at the top of the page. It has sword-like fleshy green leaves edged with gold and cross banding in grey/light green.
The species plant, Sanseveria trifasciata, (shown below) has similar shaped leaves but without the golden edges.
The leaves of Sanseveria trifasciata laurentii can reach up to 1m (3 feet tall), although they more commonly reach about half this height. Sanseveria trifasciata generally grows smaller. Other varieties of Sanseveria trifasciata include:
- Sanseveria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’ – a small and fine leaved light green cultivar
- Sanseveria trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ – which has cream cross-banding, and
- Sanseveria trifasciata ‘Craigii’ – which has cream edges.
There are some lower growing forms of Sansevieria, often known as dwarf snake plants. These form a rosette of flowers in the pot. Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Hahnii’ is the most common of these and has light banding across dark green leaves. ‘Golden Hahnii’ and ‘Silver Hanhii’ have gold and silver shading, as you would expect from their names.
Dwarf snake plant
The dwarf snake plant is known as Sansevieria ballyi. It only grows 4 to 5 inches tall, with thinner leaves that are curved inwards and grow in a rosette shape.
You may also hear of Sansevieria Francisii. As you can see from the picture below, it has quite a different leaf arrangement from most Sansevieria and plainer colouring. This species most closely resembles other Dracaena and so gives us a clue as to why Sansevieria have been subsumed into the Dracaena genus.
The many different types of Sansevieria are always popular house plants. Partly, this is because of their striking foliage, but no doubt their popularity also has something to do with how easy they are to grow.
Unlike most indoor plants, Sansevieria will cope with both shade and bright sunlight. They can withstand drafts, dry air and periods without water. In fact the biggest threat to them is overwatering.
Sansevieria is therefore one of the best plants to start with if you are beginning to grow house plants and, as we have covered here, there are plenty of different types to choose from.
Sansevieria can be propagated by leaf cuttings, although the plantlets that come from leaf cuttings will lack the exact variegation of the parent plant.
If you are lucky enough to live in a warm, frost free area, Sansevieria can be grown outside in poor or moderately fertile well drained gritty soil in full sun.
Martin Cole has been an avid gardener for more than 20 years and loves to talk and write about gardening. In 2006 he was a finalist in the BBC Gardener of the Year competition.
He previously lived in London and Sydney, Australia, where he took a diploma course in Horticultural studies and is now based in North Berwick in Scotland. He founded GardeningStepbyStep.com in 2012. The website is aimed at everybody who has been bitten by the gardening bug and wants to know more.
Gardening Step by Step has been cited by Thompson and Morgan, the UK’s largest mail order plant retailer, as a website that publishes expert gardening content.
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