SANSEVIERIA (bowstring hemp)

10oC/50 deg F

There are about 60 species in this genus. Three forms are usually seen as house-plants: one is especially popular. These are now regarded by some botanists as all belonging to S. trifasciata, and as being cultivars. but they are still listed and regarded by many people as two distinct species. The type species, rather rudely called mother-in-law’s tongue, also has the name snake plant. The latter is a better description, since the leaf markings are reminiscent of that reptile. The leaves are long, narrow and swordlike. with sharply-pointed tips. They form clumps which can become quite dense in well-grown plants, and hold themselves rigidly erect. The leaves have irregular-edged wavy bands of green and silvery-grey across the entire leaf, from side to side. The favourite form, ‘Laurentii’. has similar markings, but also a bold yellow border on each side of the leaf.

The plant usually labelled S. hahnii but now recognized as another cultivar of S. trifasciata, is rather different. It forms a rosette of much shorter, wider and more oval leaves, which spread out. These are usually banded green and grey, but there is a more rare form with very wide creamy borders to the leaves. In both cases, the leaves reach 10cm (4in) long. and they are rather like dwarflbrms of.S. trifasciata and.S. I. ‘Laurentii’ respectively. apart from their rosette-like habit. Sansevieria is a very misunderstood plant, and when bought is invariably very much under-potted. In nature it has a free root-run. sending out runners. If given a reasonably large pot it will do the same in the home and soon form a thick clump. It is a vigorous grower during the summer months, and can be watered quite freely. Summer is also a good time to divide the plants for propagation. using a very sharp knife to cut cleanly through the roots. Doing this in early summer gives the plants time to make active growth and become well established in their new pots before winter arrives.

Any peat-based compost suits these plants, but ensure that drainage is perfect. During summer, provide slight shade. The foliage is easily scorched behind glass when direct sunlight falls on wet or damp areas. In winter, give them full light. Innumerable plants are lost in winter through over-watering. It is vital to be very sparing with water. and often it is best not to water at all -certainly not during mid-winter. Wet roots at this time leads to rapid rotting and the whole plant turns yellow and dies.

The need for water can often be detected by close examination of the foliage. The leaves tend to curl to form a tubular shape if they want water, but even if this happens in winter, the amount given should be cautious and sparing. In summer, the plants will not mind being left without water for a time, and can be left unattended for a week or more.

The only way to obtain more plants of the variegated cu It ivars is to divide them. However, plants are easy to raise from leaf cuttings taken in early summer, but these are most unlikely to have bordering ol’ the foliage. Leaves that may have become damaged can be removed from close to the base, using a very sharp knife. Then cut the leaf into sections, each 5cm (2in) in length. Insert these in a propagator on a window-sill. The cuttings usually root readily and

new plants will arise from their base. The old piece of leaf then shrivels and can be removed carefully. Provided care is taken over watering. sansevierias are quite easy plants to manage and do well in centrally-heated homes where the air may be too dry for most other houseplants. However, in low humidity the plants grow less fast.

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