It may be the popularity of this plant that accounts for the vehemence of opinions about it: some people love its extraordinary shape, with its sword-like leaves standing tall and bolt-upright, quite unlike any other house plant; others absolutely detest it. Certainly too many of them on a windowsill do create a rather austere, forbidding impression. Or is it the unflattering common names that suggest to people that they should think ill of the plant? Whoever branded the poor Sansevieria with the name Mother-in-laws Tongue may have been a wit, but certainly was no admirer.
Sansevieria trifasciata has dark-green leaves striped with ripples of silvery green. We are more likely to come across the variety called Laurentii, which has cream-coloured borders running the length of the leaves.
Sansevieria trifasciata grow high, although they are more usually about half this height; in any case, make sure that your pot has a wide-enough base to prevent the plant toppling over when fully grown.
Sansevieria trifasciata will sometimes flower, producing a spike bearing curly little yellow-green flowers, a bit like a wild Bluebell in its shape. This should be cut back when the flowers die away.
The Sansevierias come from West Africa and are named after an eighteenth-century Italian prince, Raimondo di Sangro of San Severo, in northern Apulia. Another species is grown as a house plant: Sansevieria hahnii. This has a rather more squat form, and grows around a central rosette.
These are all extremely easy plants to grow. They need precious little pampering and will remain perfectly happy on the sole condition that they are never swamped with water.
Position: Not fussy: either sunlight, or shade, even weak indirect light.
Temperature: Standard room temperatures are fine; winter minimum of 50°F (10°C).
Water: Water regularly, giving the plant plenty of water in the summer but allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. In winter keep the soil barely moist; too much water over the winter can cause rotting at the base of the stems.
Feeding: Feed established plants once a month in summer.
Propagation: From leaf cuttings (requires warmth); variegated plants, however, will revert to green if propagated by this method. To avoid this, propagate by dividing the rhizome (undergound stem) and repotting the plantlets that grow from it.
Soil: Standard loam-based potting compost. Problems: Almost all problems stem from overwatering: brown spots on the leaves, rot etc. The leaves will wilt if the plant is not receiving enough water. Prone to common pests, especially mealy bug.