The early stages of Sansevieria hoarding

Lately, I've been trying to stick to 2-3 posts per week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Looking at the dates on my posts for the last few weeks will tell you exactly how successful I've been. Life has been hectic and I'm still figuring out how to manage my time under my new circumstances. I will continue to endeavor toward greater regularity, but I won't make any promises.

Anyway, on to the topic of this post, my budding collection of Sansevieria, which can go by many common names. The most common are variations on "snake plant," "mother-in-law's tongue," and "bowstring hemp." The genus ranges from Africa and Madagascar to southern Asia. With only about 70 species, it's not the largest genus in the plant kingdom, but there is a wide variation within most of the species, not to mention hybridization. The most familiar species, Sansevieria trifasciata, comes in a multitude of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

These plants give so many reasons to love them. The diversity of growth habit, size, shape, color, and pattern would be reason enough, but add to that the ease of culture for most of the genus and it's simply impossible to resist. Most succulents tend to perform poorly indoors, becoming etiolated (stretched out), unless you have a very bright window in a cool room. Here in the Pacific Northwest, winter (when these plants need to be moved indoors), brings short days that are, more often than not, dark and cloudy. Not good for sun-loving succulents. Enter the sansevierias. While some species do prefer sun and become somewhat etiolated in dark interiors, much of the genus will exist and even grow in surprisingly dim locations for extended periods of time. They require little water, needing only enough in winter to keep them from shriveling. These are houseplants for people who kill houseplants (as one of my friends can attest). Or at least those who kill them from neglect. Over-attentive individuals could have the opposite effect of death by over-watering. They rarely need cleaning, as individual leaves last for years, almost indefinitely, and can be grown root-bound without ill effect save perhaps breaking the pot with their strong rhizomes. Sansevierias are about as close as one can get to a plastic plant and still take pride in caring for a living organism.

So let's get right down to it, now. My first sansevieria was Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii', the variegated form of the common snake plant. I don't remember how long I've had it, but I remember taking it home in a 4-inch pot, and it was only about that tall, too. Today it's growing in a 6 or 7-inch pot and stands over a foot tall. This is not a fast-growing plant, though it slowly picks up speed with each passing year, producing more, taller leaves.

In college, I managed a small teaching conservatory, where I could propagate whatever I wanted from the collection. I think I showed remarkable restraint, though others may not agree. Only three of those plants are still part of my collection. One Aglaeonema 'Silver Queen', and two sansevierias. Sansevieria trifasciata 'Hahnii' is a mutation that stays in a juvenile, rosette-forming growth habit less than a foot tall.

I love the green-on-green patterning and the tough constitution. The leaves are a bit longer and narrower than normal because it was part of a very overgrown clump before I divided it. All the individual growths were stretching out trying to get above the others. I've grown it in pretty dark conditions since then, too.

This summer marked a special event for this plant: its first new offset since I got it! It's only been about 5 years. Did I mention these plants were slow growing? Not usually this slow, but I've been growing this plant in very tough conditions.

 One of my favorites is Sansevieria kirkii var. pulchra. It almost looks more like a Cryptanthus than a Sansevieria. I've had this one for two or three years, and it's grown much faster than my trifasciata types. This year it produced three new growths, essentially doubling the size of the plant. I think it liked summer in the greenhouse. Though it's not the common cultivar 'Coppertone' it takes on stronger coppery tones with more sun, with a few fine, nearly black lines running lengthwise down the leaves. This plant is still in the juvenile stage. At some point, it will start producing larger, more upright leaves to 4 feet tall.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Bantel's Sensation' is a heavily variegated cultivar with tall, narrow leaves. I've had this one for around two years. It suffered from an infestation of worms early on, like the red wrigglers people buy for their worm bins. For all I know, they were there when I bought it. I know it had been overwatered before I took it home. By the time I realized how bad the problem was, the poor thing had almost no roots. I had to wash all the soil from the roots and replace it with faster-draining, worm-free soil. It pretty much sat there for the next year. This year, it finally started producing strong new growth, and it even bloomed. But darn if those flowers aren't almost impossible to get a good picture of.

Pictured below, paired like the sun and moon, are Sansevieria trifasciata 'Golden Hahnii' (left) and S. trifasciata 'Streaker' (right). 'Golden Hahnii' is a variegated sport of 'Hahnii', and has the same low, rosette-forming growth habit, only smaller and even slower-growing because of the variegation. Along with wide, creamy yellow margins, the center of each leaf is overlaid with a translucent, streaky grey/cream veneer, too, but you can still see the regular patterning through it. I got 'Golden Hahnii' at the same time as 'Hahnii' photographed above, but it's grown much more slowly. It will also eventually form new rosettes, but so far it's only produced a handful of new leaves. 'Streaker' is another interesting mutation of the 'Hahnii' growth type, this time with dark green, patterned margins and a streak of silver-grey down the center of each leaf. There's a channel running between the grey and green portion of each leaf, almost like it could separate. Actually, I had this plant a couple years ago and the portions did separate on some of the leaves. It had produced multiple offsets and no longer had the neat rosette shape that I loved, and when the next time I moved, it was one of the things I left behind to make room. I can't believe I was so stupid! I was so happy to find it recently at Portland Nursery on Division. This time, when it produces offsets, I'll share them instead of giving the whole plant away.

Ironically, one of my most recent acquisitions is the plain old, regular form of Sansevieria trifasciata. It's not rare or unusual, but I still had to have it. I love the green-on-green patterning, without the distraction of any other variegation.

The next two plants came from Fleetfoot and Foulweather Succulents, via Portland Nursery on Division. I love those guys! The plant pictured below is a seed-grown Sansevieria 'Horwood' (sold as horwoodii, but that species isn't currently recognized). The fact that it is seed grown is amazing. Plants grown from leaf cuttings are stuck with the leaves from which they were propagated jutting awkwardly for years, unless you remove it. And I think they go through a long awkward phase even then. This seed-grown plant will progress naturally through its juvenile, rosette-forming stage and eventually produce larger, upright leaves, just like S. kirkii var. pulchra will.

Related to Sansevieria kirkii and S. elliptica, 'Horwood' has horn-rimmed edges in white and rusty red, with intricate patterns of green and near-white on the leaves.

It even has two new growths forming already! The second one is smaller and even more difficult to photograph, but you can see one of them here. I love watching plants grow, and I'm excited that I already get to watch these new rosettes develop.

And finally, Sansevieria singularis. A more recent name for it is Sansevieria fischeri. This plant is also still in its juvenile stage. As it grows, it will produce longer, taller leaves. Eventually, it will produce leaves that grow singly from the soil surface, rising up much like Sansevieria cylindrica. The mature leaves can grow up to eight feet tall, but that will take a very, very long time, and may never occur growing in a pot in the Pacific Northwest.

The patterning on this plant is simply amazing. It's one of those plants I can just stare at every time I walk by. As it grows, the channel along the top of each leaf will diminish, becoming more cylindrical. Unfortunately, the patterning may also be reduced as it matures, but that will be a very slow process, with lots of time to enjoy the intricate markings on the leaves until then.

So that's my collection so far. Ten plants. I have my eye on several more at both Portland Nurseries, but I'm waiting for the houseplant sale in January. Unlike the three I already got from the Division St. location that were one or two of a kind, the rest were present in enough quantity that there should still be some left by January. Just in case, I'll have to check in periodically to make sure they don't disappear before then. I may even have to cut back on my other tender plants so I can make room for more sanseverias.


  1. Excellent beginnings of a collection. I hate to admit that, at the moment, I am Sansevieria deficient. Well actually completely lacking. I have none. Check out the first plant here: pretty fabulous right?

    1. To be fair, you do have quite a few plants already, especially your agave collection. You can't grow everything. Ooh, that is pretty cool.

  2. I've until recently thought of these as "meh" plants. That 'Horwood' is pretty sweet though. I did not know about the rosette-forming types -- love them!

    1. Sansevieria trifasciata is a pretty common, and frequently abused indoor plant. I think they suffer from the same bias people have against parking lot plants. I'm addicted to patterned foliage. You would probably love Sansevieria pinguicula and S. francisii.

  3. Your enthusiasm for Sanseverias might be catching.

    1. They're so easy, too! There are worse tender plants to start collections of.

  4. I have just 3 species of Sanseveiria. Your post has definitely whetted my appetite - the patterns on the foliage of 'Hahnii' make me think of some of the bromeliads I love.

    1. That one reminds me a bit of some bromeliads, too, which is part of why I like it.

  5. I still miss the Sanseveiria cylindrica I gave away when I moved cross country 20 years ago. Do they have them at Portland nursery? Might do a road trip in January.

  6. Wonderful collection. I love plants that are a sure thing. The Bantel's Sensation is so elegant; maybe it would show the flowers better against a darker background? Are the flower fragrant? Sansevieria 'Horwood' is gorgeous: I'll never look at Sansevieria quite the same way again.

  7. I think I am in the middle stages of Sans hoarding.
    Even people with brown thumbs can grow Sansevierias. There are dozens of varieties to choose from. Short. Tall. Wide. Narrow. I put my plants outdoors on the porch in summer and they are happy as can be. In the fall I bring them in and mostly don't water them. They sit dormant in my living room window.
    Thanks for the article. It makes me appreciate my plants all over again.


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