You see them in the mall and in the dermatologist’s office and in the home of a friend you wouldn’t trust to take care of your cat while you’re on vacation. Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata) is a ubiquitous and hardy plant that can add a little ambience to your indoor space without being a lot of work and worry. In fact, snake plant seems to thrive on neglect, which is why it has remained a popular houseplant over the generations.
Snake plant is an evergreen perennial with long, stiff, sword-shaped leaves that shoot up vertically from the ground. There are differnt varieties, though most you can buy have dark green leaves with lighter green bands and edges, which make it look a bit like its namesake reptile.
Like aspen trees, strawberry plants and bamboo, snake plant spreads by rhizomes — little root-like structures (actually modified plant stems) that run horizontally, either under the soil or above ground, to an unoccupied spot where they send up another clump of leaves. In the wild, a giant patch of snake plant can be just one plant because all the individual plants are genetically identical to each other, connected by these rhizomes.
Although about 70 different species of snake plant can be found throughout Africa and southern Asia, the one we normally see in our accountant’s office is native to the dry regions of West Africa. Snake plant is called by many names — Skoonma-se-tong, St. George’s sword, mother-in-law’s tongue and viper’s bowstring hemp (as it has been used throughout history as a fiber plant for baskets, ropes and bows), among others.