Plant and Garden

Snake Plant Ain’t A Sansevieria!?!?

Sansevieria, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, devil’s tongue, jinn’s tongue, bowstring hemp, snake plant, and snake tongue is native to Africa, notably Madagascar, and southern Asia.

A historically recognized genus of flowering plants, now included in the genus Dracaena based on molecular phylogenetic studies.

Click to purchase Dracena selection

You might recognize Dracaena when it comes to Dragon Tree or Corn Plant.

In the APG III classification system, Dracaena is placed in the family Asparagaceae and the subfamily Nolinoideae.

This was formerly the family Ruscaceae. 

Scientists reclassify plants and animals more and more. Operating an animal facility has us on our toes much of the time. 

Sometimes scientific evidence uncovers previous descriptions. Because the oldest name in print is the name that takes precedence, when a printed document is found with a different name for a plant or animal and is an older document than the one that has the current name, it is changed. 

Another reason is the plant or animals were misidentified from the start and the mistake is discovered and rectified. 

With the Sansaveria, it has been reclassified. 

This happens when taxonomists gave previous names to plants by their “looks”, their flower parts that looked like other plants’ flowers, and so on. 

More and more, taxonomists are testing plants through DNA sequencing and have been since the nomenclature of plants was developed in the 18th century by Swedish botanist Linneaus. 

The genus name Sansevieria honors Italian scientist and inventor Raimondo di Sangro [1710–71], Prince of San Severo.

Vincenzo Petagna

The genus was originally named Sanseverinia by Vincenzo Petagna in 1787, to honor his patron Pietro Antonio Sanseverino, Count of Chiaromonte (1724–1771), in whose garden Petagna had seen the plant.

In 1794, Carl Peter Thunberg used the name Sansevieria It is not clear whether Thunberg’s name was intended to be new, or was a typographical error for Petagna’s name.

“Sansevieria Thunb.” is a conserved name in the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants, notwithstanding arguments that the author should be given as Petagna.

Click to purchase Haumatophyllum bipinnatifidum

The spellings “Sanseveria” and “Sanseviera” are commonly seen as well, the confusion deriving from alternate spellings of the Italian place name.

Another plant that is very familiar to most is the split-leaf philodendron or Philodendron bipinnatifidum (syn. selloum) which is now haumatophyllum bipinnatifidum .

As difficult as that change will be to use, it will be a challenge for me to begin to call the Sansaveria by its now name Dracaena.

Click to purchase Dracaena masoniana

Some snake plants have soft leaves, such as the common Dracaena trifasciata cultivars. 

Another snake plant on this soft side is Dracaena masoniana, which is huge, growing up to six feet tall with very wide leaves.

This we often see sold as a single fat leaf with a fun selection name such as ‘Shark Fin’ or ‘Whale Fin.’ 

The nice dark leaves of these varieties allow the plant to soak up as much light as possible in those dark corners. These are from tropical areas of Africa and Asia and generally grow in deep undergrowth, which is why they do so well in low light. 

Click to purchase Dracaena cylindrica

While some Dracaena are soft, others have hard-leafed snake plants, such as Dracaena angolensis (Sansevieria cylindrica) selections. These plants have harder skin and are usually lighter in color and cylindrical in shape. 

This group is from arid exposed habitat in Africa and Madagascar. That hard skin combined with their cylindrical shape locks in water. Many hard-skinned snake plants also evolved spikes at their leaf tips. 

Click to purchase Dracaeana ‘Fernwood’

On some cultivars, such as Dracaena penguicula and Dracaena cylindrica ‘Padula’, their spikes are truly dangerous.

This group often grows by stolons, which shoot out from the base of the mother plant creeping along the soil, rooting as they grow. In pot culture, these stolons grow into beautiful cascades, prized by collectors. Hard-leaved Dracaena aren’t as durable in low light as their soft-leaved counterparts but do excel in bright light or direct sun. 

Some, such as Dracaena cylindrica ‘Padula,’ ‘Fernwood’, ‘Mohawk’, ‘Samurai’ and ‘Starfish’ can be grown outdoors

Let us know your ideas and comments below!

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