About the genus
The genus Sansevieria originates in Africa with the main centre of endemism being in the eastern African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. There are currently about 80 known species and a whole range of cultivars based on S. trifasciata.
The leaves of Sansevieria species are typically arranged in a rosette around the growing point, although some species are distichous. There is a great variation in foliage form. There are two types of leaves, and generally the hard-leaved species originate from arid climates, while soft-leaved species are found in more tropical and subtropical regions. The hard-leaved species have a number of adaptations for surviving dry regions. These include thick, succulent leaves for storing water and thick leaf cuticles for reducing moisture loss. The leaves are often cylindrical to reduce surface area and are generally shorter than those of their soft- leaved tropical counterparts, which are wide and strap-like. The juvenile growth habit is quite different from mature plants, which can make identification difficult.
The flowers are not significant and sansevierias are mainly grown for their leaf shape and form, though flowers are often strongly scented.
How to grow them
Sansevieria are easy in cultivation providing you give them plenty of warmth. They are not plants for the cold greenhouse but will do well on windowsills and in heated conservatories. Temperatures that you are happy with will suit Sansevieria very well; therefore they are perfect houseplants and can even tolerate some shade. They are generally slow-growing. Cultivation is a simple matter – in habitat, most Sansevieria are extremely resilient and will thrive in a wide range of soils ranging from clay to nearly bare rock. However, in cultivation, like most xerophytic plants, they grow best in porous, well-drained soil.
Excessive watering will cause the fleshy roots (rhizomes) to rot, so it is essential that the soil is allowed to dry sufficiently between watering.
I use a coarse potting mix consisting of John Innes, horticultural grit and pumice in equal proportions. This mix is therefore quite porous and provides good aeration, but requires more frequent watering to prevent over drying during the growing season. A half-strength balanced feed can be given with each watering during active growth in the summer months.
Most Sansevieria will suffer and perhaps die if temperatures drop below 7°C, combined with wet soil. However, they can survive colder temperatures if the soil is dry, though the leaves can become marked. Some of the South African species such as S. aethiopica and S. hyacinthoides can tolerate lower temperatures. They grow best in warm daytime temperatures from 25–35°C with cooler night temperatures from 10–20°C.
Propagation is easy too. Sansevieria seed is almost never available so vegetative propagation is the way to go. Offsets can be cut off from the mother-plant, allowed to dry out for a week or so, and just planted in fresh compost. Leaf cuttings will take longer and should only be taken between spring and summer. Ensure that the cut end has dried out for at least ten days before planting in a porous mix.
Text and photos by Al Laius.
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