Sansevieria: Aptly named Mother-in-law’s Tongue

When I was first introduced to the genus Sansevieria I admit that being impressed was not high on the emotive scale. Actually, I kind of thought they were stupid plants with very little point to them taking up residence in anyone’s garden and I would pigeon-hole those who grew them as obvious non-gardeners.

The reason: I had only ever seen Mother-in-law’s Tongues grown as they’re shown here – isolated and grown as a focal point in a sea of dry sand.

Later on, I became enchanted with their architectural poise after seeing them grown in great clumps. They were like this sea of cream and dark green that stood vigilant against the elements and stubbornly resisted any movement like a royal guard on sentry duty.

Interestingly enough, sansevieria is meant to grow this way. If you found them growing in the wild in tropical Africa you wouldn’t find them growing as dot plants but mingling together to produce an almost impenetrable shield.

While this clumping habit can be an obvious advantage for the home gardener it can also be sansevieria’s downfall. In many countries, the Mother-in-law’s Tongue plant has been listed on the Known Weeds registry. Once this plant escapes from any confine it can easily propagate and continually clump until it becomes an environmental nightmare.

How to grow Sansevieria

Answering this question is like Shrek responding to Princess Fiona when she exclaims, “A talking donkey!” It’s no surprise that sansevieria will grow – it’s getting them to stop that’s the trick!

However, there are a few things that will help them grow better;

  1. Sunlight – the more the better. Mother-in-law’s (we’ll shorten it for expediency) love full-sun and while they will still do fine in part-shade they excel when they’re completely exposed to the sun’s rays.
  2. Well-draining soil – this is probably why they’re often found growing in sand. While sansevierias enjoy a well-composted soil they don’t appreciate hard, clay loams. If clay soils are all you have then consider building a raised bed filled with good-draining sandy soil. They will love you for it.
  3. Water – they’re not water-hungry plants and can easily tolerate a drought, yet they do enjoy a good watering provided the soil drains well.

How to propagate Mother-in-law’s Tongues

As sansevieria is a clumping plant, reproducing them is merely a matter of division. Each Spring they will send out some new shoots than can easily be removed, with roots intact, and repotted or planted elsewhere.

I’m not sure how expensive these plants are elsewhere in the world but here in Australia a 200mm pot will set you back $12+. So, when a friend told me that she was removing all hers from a neglected garden bed I was quick to accept and they easily took to my garden and have grown well ever since.

So how did Mother-in-law’s Tongues get their name?

Sharp. Pointed. Long. I’m not sure really. Maybe it has something to do with the colour – Hi Mum! is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Additionally, we participates in various other affiliate programs, and we sometimes get a commission through purchases made through our links.