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Dracaena trifasciata

Mother-In-Law's Tongue: Low-Maintenance, Air-Purifying Plant

Mother-in-law's tongue, also called snake plant, is an easy-to-grow favorite for anyone who keeps houseplants. It's valued for its rigid upright leaves and air-purifying ability.

Other names for this plant...

Snake plant St George's Sword Viper's bowstring hemp

About Mother-In-Law's Tongue

Mother-in-law's tongue is one the easiest to grow house plants available. Requiring only indirect light and occasional water, mother-in-law's tongue can happily grow without much attention, making it an excellent choice for beginners.

The variation in pattern and shades of green and yellow on its blade-like leaves make this succulent a beautiful addition to any area of your home. While all house plants help improve air quality in your home, mother-in-law's tongue was studied and noted by NASA for its ability to purify the air and remove toxins.

It's also extremely easy to propagate by dividing or leaf cutting, so new plants can be created and grown.

Botanical Name

Mother-in-law's tongue is botanically known as Dracaena trifasciata or, by its synonym, Sansevieria trifasciata and is a member of the family Asparagaceae (asparagus family). Other well-known members of the Asparagaceae family include Hosta, Agave, and Yucca.

Plant Type

Mother-in-law's tongue is a stemless, herbaceous perennial with evergreen leaves.

Herbaceous perennials are a category of flowering plants known for their non-woody stems and propensity for dying back to the base during the winter months. Once the growing seasons of spring and summer arrive, the foliage and new growth and flowers return. Being classified as a perennial means the plant can be expected to return each season for two years or more.

In the case of the mother-in-law's tongue, the leaves will remain healthy and green when kept indoors and at temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.


Mother-in-law’s tongue is native to tropical west Africa and surrounding areas, such as Nigeria and the Congo. It prefers humidity and rocky soil that drains quickly but will survive in dry air.

When allowed to grow freely in its natural habitat, the mother-in-law's tongue can grow 12 feet tall or more. Because the conditions in these areas are ideal for growth, mother-in-law's tongue is often considered an invasive species of plant in these areas.


Mother-in-law’s tongue is often referred to as a snake plant because of its appearance.

Its tall, pointed leaves are thick and fleshy like other succulent plants. The leaves grow from tuberous rhizomes, which will spread underground as the plant ages.

The leaves of mother-in-law’s tongue are variegated, with a dark green interior and faint grey striping with lighter, whitish-yellow hues on the edges. When grown in its natural habitat, mother-in-law's tongue will produce greenish-white flowers. Indoors, however, it's not likely to produce flowers at all.

Mother-in-law's tongue has long, sword-like leaves with green, yellow, or silver variegated patterns.

Types Of Mother-In-Law's Tongue Plants

There are over 70 documented species of mother-in-law’s tongue (plants within the Dracaena genus). Not all of those, however, are commonly used as indoor plants.

The 10 most commonly grown mother-in-law's tongue varieties are:

  1. D. trifasciata. Common snake plant. This variety is variegated with alternating light and dark green striations.

  2. D. trifasciata ‘Laurentii.’ The most common and popular cultivar of D. trifasciata. Solid, yellow lines along both edges of the leaves characterize it.

  3. D. trifasciata ‘Moonshine.’ A cultivar of the common snake plant. This species won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

  4. Dehrenbergii ‘Samurai Dwarf.’ Perfect for small spaces, this dwarf version will only reach 4-6 inches tall. This extremely slow-grower also produces leaves in a V shape and alternating pattern, making it an unusual version.

  5. D. trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation.’ This is also a cultivar of D. trifasciata. White stripes on its narrow, variegated leaves are the hallmark of this species.

  6. D. masoniana. Also known as the whale fin plant due to its slow-growing, enormous leaves.

  7. D. masoniana' Variegata.’ A variegated cultivar of the whale fin.

  8. D. trifasciata ‘Hahnii.’ Another species perfect for small spaces, this cultivar is sometimes called the bird's nest snake plant.

  9. D. angolensis (Sansevieria cylindrica). This unusual mother-in-law's tongue has rounded, cylindrical leaves that resemble bamboo shoots. 

  10. D. cylindrica var. patula 'Boncel.' Sometimes referred to as a spear orchid, this short, stubby-leafed species is not an orchid.

Mother In Law's Tongue Styling 

Mother in laws tongue is best grown in containers.

Choose pots that are narrow and mildly deep. Mother-in-law's tongue can grow with just a moderate amount of root space and is so slow growing that frequent repotting isn't necessary.

Growing outdoors in the ground is also possible, but the temperature and sunlight must be just right. Too much direct sunlight, for instance, will cause the leaves to burn. The soil also needs good drainage to prevent mother-in-law's tongue from dying from root rot.

Under the right conditions, mother-in-law's tongue can be grown outdoors and makes a beautiful border.


Mother-in-law's tongue loves bright light, but not full sun. The sunlight should be indirect.


Overwatering is the biggest threat to the mother-in-law's tongue's health. The soil should be allowed to dry between watering, and enough water to dampen the soil and not soak it is acceptable. Too much water will cause root rot and can kill the plant.


These plants don't like to be cold. While they can handle cooler temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, lower than that can cause the leaves to curl and wilt.

Ideal temperatures for mother-in-law's tongue are between 50 - 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Most normal room temperatures will be ideal for mother-in-law's tongue to thrive.


Although capable of growing in dry air, mother-in-law's tongue prefers humidity.


Fast-draining soil, such as a mixture of perlite and potting soil, is recommended. Soil that holds water for too long will leave mother-in-law's tongue susceptible to root rot.


Pruning the mother-in-law's tongue is only necessary if a leaf is damaged or unsightly. When pruning, cut the leaf as close to the base of the plant as possible.


Mother in laws tongue is so easy to grow that fertilizing isn't necessary. A little fertilizer during the growing season can encourage new and faster growth to a small degree.

Height & Growth

When grown indoors, mother-in-law's tongue will reach approximately 2 feet at its maturity. In areas where it can be grown outdoors or given the right conditions, its height can be closer to 4-6 feet and sometimes as tall as 12 feet. However, given its slow-growing nature, it will take some time to achieve full height.


In humans, toxicity is mild unless consumed in large quantities. If ingested by pets or children, it's advisable to seek medical attention.


Mother-in-law’s tongue is toxic to pets and can be dangerous.

Common Problems 

  • Drooping leaves. This is likely a result of overwatering. Allow the soil to dry out. Drooping leaves can also be a result of heat stress. Moving your plant to an area with more indirect sunlight can help.

  • Soft or rotting roots. If you notice when repotting your plant that the roots are spongy or soft, it's likely root rot from overwatering.

  • Mushy leaves. Also a result of overwatering.

  • Misshapen leaves. This is likely a result of mites or thrips. These bugs drain the inside of the leaves and can cause the shape to change.

  • Brown spots. These are areas of damage that may have been caused by physical trauma or extreme temperatures. Trim off the damaged areas and move the plant to a more hospitable location.

  • Yellowing leaves. This is often the result of over- or under-watering. Change the watering schedule and allow the soil to dry between watering.

  • Failure to grow. Generally a sign of inadequate light.

How To Propagate Mother-In-Law's Tongue

Like most succulents, mother-in-law's tongue can be propagated through cuttings or by separating the rhizomes. Place the cutting in water to root, or plant the rhizome in soil and go through the regular plant care routine.

Easily propagate mother-in-law's hair by separating the rhizomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does mother-in-law's tongue live?

With the right care, mother-in-law's tongue can live up to 25 years. More commonly, however, they live to be 10-15 years old.

Does mother-in-law's tongue need full sun?

Mother-in-law’s tongue likes lots of bright but indirect light. Full direct sun can burn the leaves.

Can you grow mother-in-law's tongue both inside and outside?

Yes, mother in laws tongue can be grown both indoors and outdoors. The conditions inside, however, can be easier to control, which is why they make such wonderful houseplants.

Will my mother-in-law’s tongue flower?

Mother-in-law tongue is capable of flowering, but flowering rarely occurs when grown indoors.

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