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Sansevieria A.K.A. Snake Plant

Have you ever wondered why you don't see artificial version of sansevieria? It's because you don't need a plastic or silk version when the real thing is pretty much unkillable.

In case you don't recognize the name, these tough-as-nails houseplants are also known as Mother-in-Law's Tongue, snake plant and bow-string hemp because it produces a fiber that was used to make bowstrings for hunting.

Sansevieria are some of the toughest plants around, putting up with just about anything the windowsill gardener throws at it. These plants may not be the favorite of everyone because they have strong, tough, leathery, pointed leaves that are very architectural. They are definitely not the soft, warm and fuzzy philodendron or fern.

Sansevieria are members of the asparagus family. It was cultivated in China and kept as a treasured houseplant because it was thought the eight gods bestowed their virtues (long life, prosperity, intelligence, beauty, art, poetry, health and strength) upon those who grew snake plant.

Snake plants are tropical plants that are succulents. Like other succulents they have a modified for of photosynthesis; in order to preserve water the plant opens its stomata (cells responsible for gas exchange by leaves) at night, just the opposite of how most other green plants work. However, since photosynthesis only happens with daylight, the plant stores carbon dioxide acquire at night for use during the day and releases oxygen at night when the stomates open. This helps maximize efficiencies and reduce moisture loss that would occur if the stomates opened during the day. This is one reason the plant can tolerate home conditions and very low humidity and dry air.

If you are looking for your very own sansevieria, we have them. Depending on your decorating style you have plenty of choices. They can be tall or short, with round, flat or concave, leathery leaves. The leaves can be dark green, edged with yellow, silver, white or chartreuse.

Sansevieria prefer bright light but will tolerate very low light areas. The trade off will be in the color of the leaves. In low light, leaves will tend to be darker green and if you have a variegated form, the margins lighter in color almost to the point of being lost.

Overwatering is a major problem. Let the soil dry thoroughly before watering. During the winter with low light conditions the plant grows very little, requiring very little water.

Frequent repotting is not necessary. Some older plants will start to "creep" out of the pot or may even break the pot as they get older. One plus in this case is that the stress on the plant often results in the plant producing flowers. You are then rewarded by spikes of white flowers that are very fragrant. One other note: NASA studied how plants can act as air purifies and found that sansevieria demonstrated the ability to remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air. It may take quite a few plants per square yard but even if air filtering is minimal, they look good as a grouping.

So, for clean air, the bestowing of virtues, interesting plant form and low, low maintenance, put sansevieria on your shopping list.

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