Snake Plant 101

Snake plant in pot
Olena758/Shutterstock.com

Written by Nikita Ross

Updated: May 27, 2024

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Snake plants are one of the best-known and well-loved indoor plants. These low-maintenance, low-light tolerant, and unique-looking plants are a must-have for collectors of all experience levels.

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits and uses of snake plants, common varieties, and how to care for your own.

Let’s dig in!

Snake Plants: Origins

Many plants fall under the snake plant category. Traditionally, these plants were classified under the genus Sansevieria—named in honor of Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, by French botanist Vincenzo Petanga.

Within recent years, however, many of these plants were reclassified as a member of the Dracaena genus. Plant enthusiasts may recognize this name from dragon trees—another popular, low-maintenance houseplant. 

This reclassification is based on advancements in botanical research, including genetic analysis and morphological studies. In simple terms, technological improvements allowed scientists to take a closer look at the molecular structure of the plants to make a more accurate classification.

While you may still see snake plants sold under the Sansevieria name, many are now Dracaena. These succulent plants originate from various parts of Africa, with a few growing as far north as Southern Asia.

Snake Plants: Appearance

These succulent plants vary significantly from species to species, adding to their charm and versatility. However, several physical characteristics are shared by many types of snake plants that make them easy to identify:

  • Vertical growth habits – many varieties grow vertically rather than fanning out or trailing.
  • Sharp foliage – many varieties have sharp, pointed foliage reminiscent of swords. Both flat and tubular varieties share this trait.
  • Variegation – solid colors are a rarity with snake plant species. Most species have variegated shades of green, sometimes with yellow elements.
  • Clustered growth – these plants tend to grow in clusters, stemming upward and outward from a central group.
  • Low maintenance – all species within this genus are known for being low-maintenance and easy to grow.
  • Slow growth – snake plants are notorious for slow growth.

While there are several differences from one species to the next, experienced plant owners can often identify a snake plant by these shared characteristics.

Snake Plants: Benefits & Uses

There are several reasons why this plant is a popular choice for plant collectors. Here are some of the most common uses and benefits of this versatile plant.

Interior Design

The unique vertical growth pattern of the snake plant makes it a popular choice for interior designers. The upward foliage adds dimension to a room and looks fantastic in floor planters.

The low maintenance and low light requirements of this plant also make it ideal for interior settings.

Snake plants are also symbolic of good fortune and positive energy, making them a great option for feng shui.

Many indoor plant enthusiasts also choose these plants due to their air purification properties. However, it’s important to note that the 1989 NASA Clean Air Study has been debunked, as the controlled surroundings in the study don’t accurately represent the average home. However, they’re certainly not doing any harm.

Fiber Production

Snake plants are traditionally used in fiber production in their native regions. These strong fibers are processed into rope and cordage, with some experiments being conducted to evaluate the fibers as a composite.

Some avid DIYers and homesteaders also use the fibers to create jewelry and accessories

Erosion Control

Like many succulents, you can plant snake plants outdoors in USDA zones 9-11 for erosion control. 

These succulent plants have a rhizomatous growth habit, with thick stem-like structures called rhizomes making up their root system. These dense clusters help hold soil in place.

As these succulents are drought tolerant, they also make a great addition to gardens in dry, desert climates.

Traditional Medicine

Snake plants were used in Malaysia for their alleged analgesic (pain-reducing) effect. However, modern studies show that the pain-reducing effect is mild and offset by the toxicity of this plant. Do not consume.

Common Varieties of Snake Plants

Dracaena Trifasciata
Dracaena trifasciata syn. Sansevieria trifasciata

is one of the most popular snake plant varieties.

There are several well-known species of snake plants, each with their own unique appearance and qualities. Here are some of the most common varieties for indoor growth:

1. Dracaena trifasciata syn. Sansevieria trifasciata

Formerly known as Sansevieria trifasciata, this cultivar is the most recognizable species. This species is commonly known as Mother-in-law’s tongue for its sharp, cutting appearance.

The Dracaena trifasciata’s upright, glossy leaves are blade-like with variegated shades of light and dark green, and yellow edges. With proper care, this snake plant species will grow up to four feet tall. 

2. Dracaena trifasciata ‘Black Coral’ 

This cultivar of the Dracaena trifasciata shares the same foliage shape, structure, and height as its parent plant with a darker, moody coloration. While the leaves are a deep shade of green, they often look black during the initial growth period.

3. Dracaena trifasciata ‘Moonshine’ 

This enchanting plant has silvery green leaves that seem to shimmer in the light. The leaves are variegated with bands of light green, creating a misty, ethereal effect.

Like its parent plant, the moonshine has broad, sharp leaves. However, this cultivar’s foliage tends to be wider and flatter than the traditional Dracaena trifasciata.

4. Dracaena trifasciata ‘Twisted Sister’

This cultivar is identical to the parent plant with one unique twist—the leaves twist and curl as they grow!

This unique feature adds to the snake plant moniker, creating the illusion of motion and making a great addition to any collection.

5. Dracaena angolensis syn. Sansevieria cylindrica 

Also known as the African Spear Plant, Dracaena angolensis has sleek, elongated foliage resembling the shape of a spearhead, hence the fitting nickname.

The foliage emerges from a central stem, forming a rosette-like arrangement in a deep green, variegated hue. The African Spear Plant is distinctive in its unique growth habit, with foliage fountaining outward and curving away from the center.

With proper care, Dracaena angolensi will produce white, tubular blossoms from a center stalk.

6. Dracaena trifasciata ‘Hahnii’ syn. Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Hahnii’

Also known as the Bird’s Nest, this compact variety grows no more than 12″ high but typically doesn’t exceed 6″. The deep green leaves are broad and flat, curving outward from a center rosette, boasting a glossy, rich appearance.

This cultivar is ideal for plant owners who aren’t attracted to the traditional vertical structure of a snake plant but still enjoy the appearance and low-maintenance qualities.

7. Dracaena bacularis syn. Sansevieria bacularis

Also known as Fernwood or Fernwood Mikado, this unique plant has sharp, tubular foliage that grows upward like blades of solid grass. With a rigid structure and shiny appearance, you may think someone tricked you into purchasing a fake plant.

How to Propagate Snake Plants

Snake plants grow painfully slow and aren’t recommended for seed cultivation. 

You can propagate a snake plant with a leaf cutting, trimming a v-shaped cut into the bottom of an established leaf. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and plant it in well-draining soil. 

Alternatively, place the cutting in a glass of clean water, changing the water weekly and transferring it to soil when the roots have sprouted. It typically takes 3-6 weeks for the plant cutting to establish roots.

Sansevieria cylindrica or snake plant in ceramic flower pots on wooden background

Interior decoration and houseplant care concept. Sansevieria cylindrica or snake plant in ceramic flower pots on rustic wooden background

How to Care for Snake Plants

Snake plants are easy to care for. However, proper care will promote growth and longevity in this unique succulent.

1. Soil Selection

Opt for well-draining cactus or succulent soil with a high proportion of perlite or pumice. While snake plants will grow in standard potting soil, they prefer well-draining soil that’s similar to their natural environment.

2. Watering

Like other succulents, snake plants require infrequent watering to thrive. In fact, if you forget to water this plant for a couple of months, it will likely be fine.

Allow the soil to dry completely before giving a thorough soaking. Test the top inch of the soil with your finger to assess dryness. Choose containers that provide ample drainage to prevent the risk of root rot.

3. Maintenance and Care

Place your snake plant containers in a location with stable temperatures. These unique succulents thrive when positioned away from direct sunlight. They’ll thrive in a dimly lit bedroom or hallway with minimal light exposure. However, some light is necessary for growth.

Stay vigilant for these common pests that might affect your snake plants:

  • Mealybugs
  • Spider mites
  • Scale insects
  • Thrips
  • Fungus gnats

If you notice these critters, isolate the plant and wipe it down with a warm, wet cloth, dish soap, and neem oil.

4. Repotting and Fertilization

Snake plants are slow-growers, but they will get crowded root systems. Repot your plant into a slightly larger pot every two years, replenishing the soil as you go.

Fertilize your snake plant annually at the beginning of the growing season (in the spring). Dilute your mixture to avoid shock.

Are Snake Plants Toxic to Pets?

Snake plants are toxic to pets and people. Keep them out of reach of animals and children.

How Do I Get My Snake Plant to Bloom?

Most varieties of snake plants bloom rarely, if ever. First, ensure your snake plant cultivar can bloom. Then, provide it with ample light and avoid repotting to condense the root ball and trigger a blooming period.


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About the Author

Nikita Ross is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering plants, gardening, and yard care. Nikita has been writing for over seven years and holds a Marketing diploma from NSCC, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Canada, Nikita enjoys reading in her library, epic beach naps, and waiting for her Coffea arabica plant to produce coffee beans (no luck yet).

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