Sansevieria trifasciata

mother-in-law's tongue


Sansevieria trifasciata

Prain 1903

pronounced: san-seh-VEER-ee-uh try-fass-ee-AH-tuh

(Asparagaceae — the asparagus family)


common names: mother-in-law's tongue, snake plant

In 1794 the Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg named the plant genus Sansevieria for Prince Raimond de Sansgrio de Sanseviero, 18th century patron of botanical expeditions; trifasciata comes from two Latin words, tres, three, and fascia, a band.

This species is native to tropical west Africa from Nigeria east to the Congo. The common name ‘Snake Plant’ refers to the shape of the leaves, and ‘Mother-in-Law’s Tongue’ to their sharpness. It has been naturalized on the island after becoming a garden escapee, and is now regarded as a very invasive weed. It is very difficult to eradicate, as any piece of a rhizome left in the ground will produce a new plant.

It is an evergreen herbaceous perennial plant forming dense stands, spreading by way of its creeping rhizome, which is sometimes above ground, and sometimes below. Its stiff leaves, 2 – 6 per plant, grow vertically from a basal rosette. Mature leaves are dark green with light grey-green cross-banding, and are usually 70 – 90 cm long and 5 – 6 cm broad.

When it flowers, the flowers are in a spike, with a greenish to whitish perianth. The fruit is a red or orange berry about 8 mm in diameter, usually with two seeds.

Like some other members of its genus, Sansevieria trifasciata yields bowstring hemp, a strong plant fibre once used in Africa to make bowstrings.

It is now used predominantly as an ornamental plant, outdoors in warmer climates, and indoors as a house plant in cooler climates. There are many varieties and cultivars, many of them selected for variegated foliage with yellow or silvery white stripes on their leaf margins. There are popular as houseplants because they require a minimum of care, being tolerant of poor light and irregular watering.

In west Africa the plant is used in rituals to remove the evil eye. In modern alternative society, its ‘magick’ (the art of focusing our emotions and will, gathering and using natural energies, giving them a purpose, and releasing them to create needed change) is to aid the powers of speaking and communication, because of its appearance of huge tongues sticking up out of the ground, and it is said to aid in all manner of family quarrels, easing tension, and promoting a peaceful resolution to the conflict.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2012
Page last updated 30th March 2019