Sansevieria Zeylanica: Snake Plant’s Kissing Cousin

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Sansevieria zeylanica, more commonly identified as bowstring hemp, is an evergreen perennial plant. It’s native to the South East Asian Region, especially found in India and Sri Lanka. A very close relative of the “mother in law’s tongue“, it’s vividly green with gorgeous leaf stripes.

Sturdy and hardy, this plant can tolerate a surprising amount of neglect. It’s phenomenal as a houseplant, and in fact will purify the air in your home for you.

Much like sansevieria cylindrica and other snake plant types, this sansevieria is a popular choice whether indoors or out. So let’s talk about the bowstring hemp today and how to raise it right!

Useful Products While Growing Sansevieria Zeylanica:

Quick Care Guide

Sansevieria zeylanica
Sansevieria zeylanica is a close relative to the snake plant. Source: Yercaud-elango
Common Name(s): Bowstring hemp
Scientific NameSansevieria zeylanica
Family:Asparagaceae
Zone:9 to 11
Height & Spread:Up to 2-3 feet tall, up to 1 foot across
LightFull sun to partial shade
SoilWell-draining sandy loam
Water:Water when soil dries out, roughly 1x/week
Pests & Diseases:Mealybugs, spider mites, root rot

All About The Bowstring Hemp

Bowstring hemp plant
Sometimes called bowstring hemp, sansevieria zeylanica is a common houseplant. Source: Yercaud-elango

The dark-green, long leaves of the bowstring hemp are upright, sturdy, and sword-shaped. Horizontal creamy wave-like stripes are dappled across the surface. The leaves also have pointed tips.

While technically a flowering plant, Sansevieria zeylanica seldom blooms. On the rare occasion that it does, it produces greenish-white, fragrant flowers. But many growers never find their plant blooming at all!

It’s grown in tropical countries for its medicinal and fiber qualities. The dried rhizomatic roots are used to make antiseptic ointments. Fibers in the leaves are used to make cloth, mats, paper pulp and even sails.

Be cautious with your sansevieria zeylanica. Like snake plant and other sansevierias, it is mildly toxic when eaten. It can cause nausea or vomiting, so keep it away from your kids and pets!

Caring For Your Sansevieria Zeylanica

This easy-growing plant has a slow to moderate growth rate. While it’ll take some abuse, it has preferences that’ll help it to grow well. Let’s talk about those!

Light and Temperature

For indoor growers, your best bet is to provide as much light as you can. A sunny window is a good choice. If you don’t have lots of sunlight pouring in, provide bright indirect lighting. Your Sansevieria zeylanica may be darker green in color if in lower light.

Outdoors, bright and direct sunlight is good… well, most of the time. The peak of summer and the intense, scorching sun can cause the edges of leaves to yellow. Plants grown outdoors may be lighter in color. The natural patterning may be less distinct as well.

As a tropical plant, bowstring hemp doesn’t like the cold. Temperatures below 50°F can cause leaf damage. A range of 60°F to 75°F is best.

Water and Humidity

Closeup of sansevieria zeylanica leaf
This closeup shows the distinctive horizontal striping on a leaf. Source: David J. Stang

Sansevieria zeylanica thrives in semi-arid to humid environments. Indoor growers will find that a pebble tray with water beneath the plant’s pot is a good idea. This increases the ambient humidity around the plant.

Outdoors, a damp mulch around the plants will provide a little extra humidity. You’ll want to avoid overwatering, though – remove and soak the mulch in water, then put it back around the plant.

Watering should be done once the soil has dried out. Do a deep, thorough soaking of your plants once the soil’s dry. If watering a potted bowstring hemp, stop once you see water coming out of the pot’s base. For in-ground plants, water slowly and deeply to a depth of at least 3-4″.

Over the winter months, you can reduce your watering frequency. The plant goes dormant during the winter and won’t need as much. It will need more water during its active growth phase in the spring and summer.

Soil

A well-draining sandy loam is perfect for your plant. The loam will absorb and hold some moisture between waterings. Sandier soils drain off excess water very well. Avoid standing water, as this can lead to root rot.

Fertilizer

Light feeders, the sansevieria zeylanica doesn’t need much fertilizer at all. A half-strength or lower feeding of general-purpose plant fertilizer monthly is plenty. In fact, many people do a single slow-release granular feeding in the spring and it does just fine!

Repotting

Like the snake plant, your bowstring hemp likes to be slightly root-bound. Transplant only when it starts showing signs of yellowing or leaf loss.

Should you need to transplant your plant, prepare a sandy loam that’s well-draining. Pick a pot one inch wider than your current one. Then, remove your plant from its old pot. Use your fingertips to lightly open up the root mass, dusting away older soil. Repot in new soil at the depth it was originally planted. The old soil can be added to your compost pile.

Propagation

Bowstring hemp outdoors
An outdoor stand of bowstring hemp plants. Source: Yercaud-elango

Propagation of sansavieria zeylanica is exactly like snake plant propagation. Leaf cuttings or division are the only reliable methods.

I highly recommend opting for division when your plant’s old enough. It’s a simple process, and will continue on that specific cultivar. Cuttings may occasionally revert from a specific cultivated form to their parent type.

Pruning

As a general rule, there isn’t much pruning needed for your bowstring hemp. If the leaves on the outside of the plant fall over, you can cut them with a sterilized hori-hori knife or pruning shears. Usually one or two leaves will flop over as the plant becomes more crowded in its pot. If they’re healthy leaves, use them as cuttings!

Otherwise, the only pruning you’ll need to do is to remove dead or damaged leaves. This should be relatively rare. You may be able to just trim off the damage if it’s only at the tip of a leaf. If it’s along the entire leaf, remove it at soil level.

Troubleshooting

Resilient, your sansevieria zeylanica is very easy to grow. It’s rather uncommon to experience issues with it. Let’s go over the few that might appear!

Pests

Only two pests are common on the bowstring hemp: mealybugs and spider mites. Both are sucking pests which drink the juices stored in the plant’s leaves.

While neither is likely to transmit diseases, they can make the leaves unappealing. It’s important to get rid of the pests when they appear.

For mealybugs, a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol can be used to remove small quantities. An insecticidal soap blended with pyrethrin can be used for large infestations. Spider mites can be treated with the insecticidal soap too. Neem oil will prevent both.

Diseases

Root rot is the only major concern for your bowstring hemp plants. Caused by overwatering, it is easily preventable. Make sure your soil readily drains off excess water. If the leaves look full and vigorous, and the soil is lightly moist, you can skip watering until it becomes drier.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sansevieria zeylanica var. Hahnii
This Sansevieria zeylanica var. Hahnii plant has shorter leaves than other cultivars. Source: Kurt Stueber

Q.  When should I repot my bowstring hemp?

A. Repot when it appears to be crowded in its pot. This is a perfect time to divide your plant into smaller plants, too! Generally it’ll be every 2-5 years.

Q. Why are my bowstring hemp leaves falling over?

A. There’s two possible reasons. Plants that get too much fertilizer can grow too quickly to support the weight of their leaves. This can result in leaves flopping over the sides of their pot. Also, an overcrowded plant may have leaves drooping. You can trim these leaves back to soil level without causing harm to your plant.

Q: Is sansevieria zeylanica the same as sansevieria trifasciata?

A: It depends on who you ask. They are two very closely related species, nearly identical in growth habits, care regimen, and the like. In fact, they’re so similar that many people consider S. zeylanica to be a synonym of S. trifasciata. But while very closely related, they’re subtly different in leaf patterning. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re botanically considered identical in the future, but right now they’re still given separate botanical names.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener



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