Q: Can you recommend a super easy-care houseplant?
A: If you are looking for a dependable houseplant, Sansevieria may be perfect for your home. Sansevieria has been known by several odd and amusing common names such as Snake Plant, Devil’s Tongue, or Mother-In-Law’s Tongue. These names may be based on the stiff, tall foliage that is snake-like in shape, or that the tip of each leaf ends in a sharp point. It has also been known as the Bowstring Hemp as the leaf fibers can be used to make bowstrings.
While this plant is native to Africa, it is a popular houseplant in many countries. In China, it is cherished as a symbolic source of strength and in Africa the plant has been used as a protective charm. It grows wild in the tropics and Australians consider it a weed. NASA has included Sanseviereia among plants it has tested to help purify indoor air. For more information on this study see: www.zone10.com/wsdocs/tech/nasa/fyh.htm.
Sansevieria are easy to care for, or ignore, as they can survive very nicely on a bit of neglect. Plant lovers often think that if a little bit of water is a good thing, more must be better. This is rarely the case and Sansevieria can live easily on small amounts of water. Too much water causes root rot and drooping leaves. They’ll let you know if they need some water as the leaves wrinkle when the plant is overly dry.
These plants thrive in heat and some sunshine. Color variation in the leaves will be better in plants that get more sun. They are slow-growing and live quite happily in the same pot for a long time. Sansevieria grows well in soil that has low nitrogen levels so they don’t need much fertilizer. Mealybugs can be a problem for these plants. Mealybugs are easily controlled by using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove the cottony mass of the insect.
Sanseveira trifasciata is the most common variety available to houseplant lovers and its leaves are tall and spiky. S. trifasciata ‘Hahnii’ is a rosette form, with short leaves that grow in a tight, circular clump. There are sixty varieties of this plant and leaf color and size varies from one kind to another. The leaves are sometimes a plain shade of green, sometimes have a yellow outline along the leaf edge, and sometimes have irregular, horizontal gray-green stripes or fuzzy spots.
It’s easy to make more of these plants. Sanseviera puts out new shoots from rhizomes which are underground roots. New shoots can be separated from the main plant and potted separately. You can also start new plants by cutting horizontal sections from a leaf and rooting them in potting mix. Place the pot into a clear plastic bag, water the soil lightly, and the cuttings should root in a few weeks.
These plants should be easy to find at your local plant nursery or grocery store. The tall varieties are dramatic in a large pot and the smaller varieties do well singly in a decorative pot or grouped in a terrarium. These relatively problem-free, easy-care plants would be a welcome addition to your home.
For more information, access www.ext.colostate.edu/Ptlk/ptlk1300.html
Contributed by Deb Ross, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com (A version of this article appeared in The Gazette on 2/21/09.)