Viper’s bowstring hemp is a popular houseplant that is famous for its tough and hardy nature. Other common and familiar names for this plant include – snake plant, Sansevieria Trifasciata, Mother-in-law’s tongue and Saint George’s sword. It has attractive succulent green leaves with beautiful leaf patterns. The leaves grow upright to form an interesting foliage shape. These plants are native to Africa. However, being a sturdy species, they can be grown anywhere except outdoors in extremely cold regions. Viper’s bowstring hemp makes a beautiful addition to your home and a great pick for a busy gardener. Read on to learn how to take care of this stunning houseplant.
Plant Appearance and Growth Rate
Viper’s bowstring hemp is a succulent plant that has fleshy, evergreen leaves. The leaves are tough and tend to grow upright. Additionally, they have distinct irregular horizontal greenish grey bands on both sides. Such a typical leaf pattern is present in most plants belonging to the genus Sansevieria. When the leaves of this plant are dried out, they can produce tough fibers. The fiber obtained from the leaves has been traditionally used to make bowstrings. That’s the reason why the plant is known as Viper’s bowstring hemp.
Mother in law’s tongue plants have a slow to medium growth rate. These plants are relatively easy to care for, and will be alive for decades. A fully mature Viper’s bowstring plant can grow up to 6 feet in optimal conditions.
Uses and Benefits
Bowstring hemp plants make great indoor pot plants as well as outdoor plants. The upright foliage of this plant can easily fit in small corners of your house or office. As this species is not very winter hardy, a warmer climate is best suited for outdoor snake plants. You can also plant them directly in the ground, but make sure to keep them in a shaded area.
Like other Sansevieria species, Viper’s bowstring hemp offers some amazing benefits. It has the ability to remove harmful air pollutants from indoor environments. It releases oxygen even at night, thus helping you to sleep better. This lucky plant is also believed to be auspicious and has some Feng Shui benefits.
Being a succulent, Viper’s bowstring hemp can store water in its leaves, roots and rhizomes. It is a drought-tolerant species, meaning it can survive without frequent watering. In fact, overwatering is a common problem which can cause the plant to rot and die. Here’s how you can efficiently water the plant:
- Before you water, check the top layer (1-1.5 inches) of soil surface with your finger. The soil surface should be dry in between waterings.
- You can water once a week or every other week, depending on the climate and surrounding conditions of the plant. For instance, plants kept in shade require less water than those in bright light. If you live in a tropical region, you may need to water your plant more frequently.
- Water slowly and thoroughly until it starts to drip out from the drainage holes. Allow the excess water drain away freely, wait for about 30-40 minutes, then empty the drainage saucer. Don’t let your plant sit in the drained water.
- Lower the frequency of watering to about once a month when the temperatures start dipping low. In the winter season, water your plant just enough so that the soil doesn’t completely dry out.
Check this post for more tips on watering your snake plants.
Snake plants are susceptible to root rot when water stands around the rhizome and root structure. So, drainage capacity is an extremely important factor for the soil you choose. A coarse and fast-draining soil works great for these plants. Never let your Bowstring hemp sit in a wet, drenched potting mix for long. Water stagnation can surely cause root rot over the period of time.
Make your potting mix breathable by adding soil ingredients that improve drainage. You can mix in some pumice, perlite or gravel in regular soil for increasing its draining capacity. Include coco coir or peat to retain some moisture without making the soil mix too dense. Check some of the best soil ingredients for snake plants. The standard potting mix used for succulents and cacti is also suitable for Viper’s bowstring hemp.
Viper’s bowstring hemp makes a perfect pot plant. You may require a new pot when you buy baby plants from a nursery, or whenever your plant outgrows its current container. The most essential thing to look for in a pot is the drainage holes. It’s important that the plant roots are comfortable in the pot and don’t drown in water. Drill some holes at the bottom if your pot doesn’t already have them. If that’s not possible, place your plant in a container with drainage, and place it inside a bigger ornamental pot. This way, it will look good on the outside and also provide good drainage.
Also, make sure the pot size is proportional to the size of your plant. If the pot is too big, it can cause overwatering problem. Many beautiful containers are available in the market in many different shapes and sizes. They come in popular materials such as terracotta, plastic, ceramic as well as wood, metal, concrete etc. Choose a container that drains properly, looks nice and goes well with your decor.
Moderate to bright indirect sunlight is optimal for Sansevieria plants. However, this plant can withstand full sun if it’s not too harsh. Bowstring hemp will also do just fine in low light conditions. But try to avoid areas that are too dark as it can stunt the plant growth.
Windows facing north or south make a great spot to place your snake plant. The plant seems to be happy with a little morning sun and bright filtered light throughout the day. But don’t worry if you cannot provide the plant direct or indirect sunlight. Artificial lighting also works great as long as it’s bright enough.
Originated in tropical regions, Viper’s bowstring hemp does best in warmer climates as it can tolerate heat very well. During the summer season, keep your plant in areas with shade or semi-shade. But it’s not as cold hardy as some other houseplants. Depending on the climate, your plant may need extra heat and dry air in the winters.
Temperatures ranging between 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit (15-29° C) are ideal for snake plants. These plants can be winter-hardy in regions where the temperature doesn’t drop too low. Exposing to a temperature below 40° F (4° C) can permanently damage the leaves. Winter frost can also harm the foliage and even kill the plant.
A general-purpose fertilizer made for houseplants is a good choice to feed your snake plants. Choose a balanced mix, meaning a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K). You can also use organic or natural fertilizers such as worm compost, but use them sparingly.
Mother in law’s tongue doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer. Feeding your plants 2-3 times a year is sufficient. A good time to do so is during spring and summer seasons. Apply a half-strength liquid fertilizer up to every month during the summer. If you are using a slow release fertilizer, add it just once a year at the beginning of summer. Remember not to overfeed your plants. Check out this fertilizer guide for more information.
Pests and Diseases
Fortunately, Viper’s bowstring hemp is typically free from serious disease and pest problems. Because of their hardiness and strong succulent leaves, snake plants don’t easily get attacked by pests. If any pest would bother your plant, it will most probably be either mealybugs or spider mites. However, these pests are not too difficult to deal with. There are easy ways to get rid of them and make your plant healthy again. Check this post to know how you can save your snake plant from common pest problems.
Talking about other problems, overwatering and low temperature seems to be two most common enemies of the snake plant. Your plant can develop scarring on the leaves if placed in freezing temperatures for too long. Too much water in the soil can cause fungus infection and root rot. Regularly inspect your plants and look for signs such as brown tips, drooping or yellowing leaves. This way you can detect and treat the problem before it’s too late.
Grooming and Maintenance
Viper’s bowstring hemp is known to be a pretty low-maintenance plant. Although it’s said that this plant thrives when left on its own, it doesn’t mean you should completely ignore it. It’s a good idea to regularly check the plant for signs of disease, so you can control the problem. You might need to remove yellow, damaged or droopy leaves. Some leaves will naturally die, and those need to be trimmed as well.
Apart from pruning the leaves once in a while, there is nothing much grooming to do. But if your plant has overgrown its container, you may need to take some action. You can divide it from the roots and create new plants, or repot it into a bigger container.
Pets and kids safety
Mother in law’s tongue plants are mildly toxic to humans and animals. They can cause some oral and gastrointestinal problems when chewed or eaten. So, be cautious and keep them away from your children and pets.
Generally, due to its bitter taste, your cat or dog may not want to chew on the plant again. Even if they do, the consumption is less likely to be fatal. Upon ingestion, the plant can make the mouth and throat swell. Nausea, diarrhea, drooling, stomach pain and vomiting are some of the possible issues if consumed in large quantities.
Repotting your Viper’s bowstring hemp is necessary if it has outgrown its container. Repotting not only makes the plant look neat and tidy, it also allows more air to get to the root system. It can make the plant stronger by encouraging a healthy root growth. Usually snake plants need to be repotted every 2-3 years.
Even though you can transplant your Bowstring hemp any time of the year, spring and early summer are good seasons to do so. Click here for an in-depth guide on repotting your snake plant. Here are some basic steps:
- Make sure to buy a pot with an appropriate size. Usually it should be 1-1.5 inches wider in diameter than the old container.
- Add a thin layer of pebbles or rocks at the bottom of the pot to cover drainage holes. Then put a layer of soil over that.
- Carefully remove your plant from its current pot and shake off sticky soil from the roots. Place the root ball in a new pot. Then fill the rest of the container with a new potting mix.
- Place your plant at the same height as before. Don’t bury the leaves. Let the soil level be at least 1 inch below the pot rim.
- Finally, water the plant thoroughly and wait for the soil to get dry before watering again.
In general Sansevieria plants are best propagated by division as they have a strong and rapidly growing rhizome and root structure. For this, you’ll need a sizable mature plant that has well established roots. Inspect the roots to see where they can be naturally separated, making sure that each section has some leaves and roots. Depending on the size, you can make two or more plants. Then place them in their separate containers and pour some water. You can also propagate this plant in water using leaf cuttings.
Here’s how you can create a plant from just leaf cuttings:
- Cut off a mature and healthy leaf from its base. Make at least 2-3 inches long sections from it.
- You can choose to keep the areas of the cuts dry and let it callous before transplanting it.
- Now, take a shallow container and plant the sections bottom side down in a well-drained potting mix. The leaf cuttings should be buried at least 1 inch deep in the soil.
- Place the container in medium light or indirect sunlight. After a couple of months, the cuttings will develop 1-2 inches long roots and can be transplanted to separate pots.
- E. Osabohien, S. H. O. Egboh Utilization of bowstring hemp fiber as a filler in natural rubber compounds, Journal of applied polymer science, 2008.