The snake plant is a perennial evergreen plant with long, stiff, sword-shaped leaves that rise vertically from the ground. There are different types, although most of what you can buy have dark green leaves with light green stripes and edges, making them look like the reptiles of the same name.
Like aspen trees, strawberry plants, and bamboo, the snake plant spreads via rhizomes—small root-like structures (the stems of a modified plant actually) that run horizontally, either under the soil or above the ground, into an uninhabited area where it sends another set of leaves. In the wild, the giant spot of the snake plant can only be one plant because all the individual plants are genetically identical to each other, and connected by these roots.
Although about 70 different species of snake plant can be found throughout Africa and southern Asia, the one we usually see in our accountant’s office is native to the dry regions of West Africa. The snake plant goes by many names – Skoonma-se-tong, Saint George’s sword, mother’s tongue, and stringed snake hemp (it has also been used throughout history as a fiber plant for baskets, ropes, and bows), among others.
Caring for your snake plant
In the wild, the snake plant is an invasive weed in some parts of Australia, which makes great sense, considering its extreme hardiness as a houseplant. Many plant-care resources call them “non-killable,” which may be close to the truth, but like any living creature in your home, you’ll need to give your snake plant attention occasionally—albeit not often.
How much water does a snake plant drink?
The biggest danger to snake plants is over-watering, as they are prone to root rot. Although they do not require frequent replanting, it is a good idea when changing pots to keep in mind that these plants do well in sandy soil. When you’re walking around watering your snake plant, it’s a good idea to wait until the soil is completely dry 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) before giving it another drink. How often you water depends largely on the time of year and how much light your snake plant gets. Snake plants, like most other houseplants, rest during the winter months, and do not need to be watered as often.
What kind of light and temperature does a snake plant need?
Snake plants do well with a variety of light conditions, both indoors and outdoors, although they do have some temperature requirements—they like them between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (12 and 29 degrees Celsius). Basically, if you are able to comfortably hang out in your house or garden, they should be fine too.
These brave spirits also tolerate anything from very low light situations to direct sunlight, although you should be careful when moving the snake plant quickly from dim light to bright light, as it will likely burn its leaves. It is generally a slow growing plant but grows more quickly in high light conditions and more slowly in dark conditions. And if you keep your plants in outdoor pots, it’s a good idea not to keep them in the hot sun—especially if you live in the desert.
Snake plants have hard, pointed leaves, so be careful not to cut the tip of the leaf—once you break a tip, that leaf will stop growing.
Snake plants have been found to be moderately toxic to dogs and cats, so if you have a relentless plant eater in your home (they should be fairly consistent, because snake plant leaves are so tough), the snake plant may not be right for you.
Although pests are not a common problem with snake plants, mealybugs may set up shop on your snake plant. It can be removed easily by touching it with a cotton swab moistened with rubbing alcohol.