In 1960, as I walked to school, I saw a house plant in a trashcan on the side
of the road. The plant was out of the pot and awaiting its fate with the trash
man. I picked it up and put it in my backpack, so that I could repot it when
I got home from school and give it another chance.
My mother told me it was a snake plant and said she thought it would survive
the ordeal--and it did. There was no soil around the roots, so we took some soil
from the garden and found a used pot and repotted the plant. My mother took out
her favorite fertilizer, Hytrous, once the most popular fertilizer on the market
(but like many good things it now is gone) and fed the plant. We placed it on
the window sill in my room, where it grew for many years.
The snake plant is one of the most popular houseplants in America today because
of its longevity and tolerance to neglect. The leaves are thick and fleshy, and
grow in a rosette form from a thick root system. The leaves are sword-shaped,
and sharply pointed; they are very stiff and, depending on the variety you choose,
could grow from 6 inches to two feet tall.
The leaves are dark green with wavy gray-green horizontal bands of color throughout
the leaves. This unusual pattern on the foliage gives the appearance of a snake
skin--hence its name snake plant. Today, there are varieties with yellow leaf
margins running up both sides of the leaf. Some will also have those wavy gray-green
markings in the yellow margins while other have yellow running throughout the
In college, during a Foliage Plant Identifications course, I was introduced
to a new dwarf variety called the 'Bird's Nest' Sansevieria. My teacher told
us that it was a "sport" that developed from the common green plant
and that it naturally grew in the shape of the bird's nest, and only grew 4 to
6 inches tall. We were told that the plant came from South Africa and it could
If you have been to a bar or dark restaurant lately, this plant was probably
there--because it will tolerate low light and neglect. The plant will grow in
most soils but if you want it to develop properly and even flower, use a good
quality potting soil like the new Espoma Potting Soil or Jolly Gardener Potting
The flower is a spray of small creamy white flowers on a thick stem that develops
from the center of the rosette of foliage. The plant does not flower often, but
with good care it will occasionally provide you with a great treat. Fertilize
the plant monthly with something like Miracle-Gro or Osmocote pellets twice a
The snake plant will grow best in a bright window and will quickly send out
new runners through an underground rhizome. When happy, it is not uncommon to
see the pot change shape because of the strong root system and all the new plants
that will form. I like to use plastic pots because they will tolerate this while
clay-type pots will break apart easily. When this begins to happen, divide the
plant into clumps or separate the new plants and pot individually. You will need
a good sharp knife to cut through the rhizome, or you can use hand pruners.
If you want to start new plants without dividing the main plant, all you have
to do is cut one of the taller leaves from the main plant. Lay the leaf on a
cutting board and cut it into pieces 3 to 5 inches long, making sure that you
place the bottom of the cutting into the soil. If you reverse
the cutting it will not root. Use a good potting soil that is well drained and
a pot with drainage holes in the bottom to root the cuttings.
In just a few weeks new leaves will develop from the base of the cutting.
If you are trying to make new plants from the yellow margin variety, you will
have to divide the plant, because taking cuttings only makes solid green plants,
no matter what type you started with. This is a great plant for both the beginner
and the experienced gardener, so buy one today to add to your plant collection.
The week before graduation from college my roommate and I gave our college
advisor, Doctor Goddard, a snake plant for his office because every plant he
grew died from neglect! We put an 8-inch potted plant on his window sill with
a clear half gallon bottle of water and wrote on the bottle, "This is water
for your plant, please use it occasionally." We signed our names--Paul and
Five years later, I went back to The University of Massachusetts to see the
campus and former teachers--and to my delight the plant was still ALIVE. Doctor
Goddard's teachings are still being used by me today to help you with your houseplants
and your garden.
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