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The snake plant allows easy care for beginners

To some people,Sansevieria plants arouse feelings of intense distaste. For instance authors George Elbert and Edward Hyams wrote: 'This is about the lowest level to which the lily family sinks. We detest them for their appearance...'

Personally, I do not know why Sansevierias should have been singled out for such hostility. Although Sansevierias look more like a cactus than a lily, they have more positive qualities than a number of other house plants. They are among the toughest of species, which can withstand any conditions, and one of the best houseplants for beginners. Virtually, Sansevierias areimpossible to kill unless over watered or never watered.

Yes, Sansevieria belongs to the Lily family, Liliaceae, and was named in honor of Raimond de Sangrio, Prince of Sanseviero. The Sansevieria has several common names: Bowstring hemp, Snake plant (not to be confused with the very similarly named 'Snakeplant', Nassauvia serpens), Mother-law's-tongue, Tiger's tail orchard, and Sword of Saint George or Sword of Saint Barbara. Most species of Sansevieria are native to tropical Africa and to the East Indies. They are evergreen perennials and cultivated as greenhouse and houseplants here in the United States.

In Africa, the plant is used as a protective charm against evil or bewitchment. The leaves contain tough elastic fibers used by the ancient Hindus to make bowstrings, mats and ropes. Closer to home, a study at NASA discovered that it is one of the best plants used to improve indoor air quality. It passively absorbs toxins such as nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde.

The long, sharp-pointed foliage may be unappealing, but they have a dramatic quality when the plants are set either among a group of succulents or against a uniform background. For those who like variegated leaves, Sansevierias come in a variety of green colors with irregular markings. Their thick, patterned leaves grow in clusters and radiate up and out from the base. They range in shape from short, blunt triangles to long swords. Clusters of greenish white flowers seldom appear, but when they do, they produce a fragrant aroma.

All varieties of Sansevieria like average house conditions, but they will suffer if temperatures drop below 50 degrees for long periods. Owing to their thick, leathery leaves, these plants are capable of tolerating dry atmospheric conditions and dry soil conditions for considerable periods.

The number species of Sansevieria in cultivation is not great. In recent years, however, several horticultural varieties have been introduced. Due to their superior forms and appearance, they are becoming popular. Among the kinds grown are: S. arborea, a stemmed kind with dull green leaves that have a white edge; S. cylindrica, grows 3 to 5 feet tall and round in section; S. ehrenbergii, a tall, bluish-leaf plant with red and white penciled stripes on the upper surfaces; S. grandis, grows to 3 feet tall with dark green leaves; S. kirkii, can reach 6 feet tall, and has leaves with wavy margins, grayish-green mottled with pale green; S. parva, has stiff, spreading leaves about 12 to 18 inches long; S. trifasciata hahnii, has a low, dense rosette of dark green leaves that have gray-green cross-bands; and S. trifasciata laurentii, is the common Snake plant, with erect green leaves that are mottled and horizontally banded with light green and are marked lengthwise with stripes of golden yellow.

Light: Lighting may vary from bright to low. The plant will grow faster and have deeper colors when given brighter light. They also require little shade if placed outdoors.

Water: Let the soil dry between watering preferably every seven to ten days. If the foliage begins to stoop, you are probably over watering; however, on the other hand, if the foliage begins to wrinkle or bend, you are not watering enough.

Soil: Standard, loose, well-drained potting mix is preferred. They like to be root- bound, so avoid repotting unless the current container becomes too small.

Fertilization: Feed a mild cactus fertilizer during the growing season. Do not feed during the winter months.

Propagation: Young plants are easily obtained by division. Remove older plants from their pots in spring and sever the rhizomes (a horizontal underground stem, usually creeping , from which shoots and roots sprout) into several portions, each containing one or more leaves.

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