Sansevieria cylindrica

"African Spear"

by Bruce Brethauer

 

 

It seems as though in the last few years we can hardly go to the local nursery without seeing the ubiquitous braided leaf Sansevierias. I regard this appearance with somewhat mixed emotions – on the one hand, I am always delighted whenever another succulent plant becomes this popular, but I would have preferred that this plant would have been recognized on its own merits, and not just as a novelty, braided plant.

 

            Sansevieria cylindrica produces fans of long, cylindrical leaves to about 3 feet in length (possibly up to 2 meters in length according to one online reference), and are just over 1 inch in diameter at their bases. The leaves may be of a uniform dark green coloration, or may bear patterned bands similar to those of other “Snake Plants”. Each fan may bear from a few to as many as about a dozen leaves. A well established plant will have the overall appearance of a bundle of short green javelins that had been thrust into the soil. It is a look which works especially well with modern décor - these plants have the look of a curious piece of modern art. Plants typically spread by underground rhizomes. Plants in the wild frequently form diffuse colonies, while plants grown in containers will eventually produce multiple fans of leaves in a more compact area to produce a denser “thicket”. Mature plants will eventually produce spikes with many small, greenish-white tubular flowers. These flowers are not particularly showy, but they are nicely fragrant; occasionally flowers will be followed by spherical orange-red berries to about 3/8 inches in diameter. According to my reference materials, Sansevieria cylindrica is native to Angola, but several sources suggest that its range may extend to other countries as well; one online authority even suggests that its range extends to Natal in Southern Africa - whether or not this represents a true natural range, or if it may have been introduced into additional regions (some of the Sansevierias have been cultivated for their tough leaf fibers) I cannot say. There are a number of look alike species, which may differ in having more curved or recurved leaves, more pronounced furrowing in their leaves, and in the details of their flowers and fruit. On the basis of photographs which I have seen online of plants identified as this species, I am suspicious that several different species are being sold under the collective name of "Sansevieria cylindrica". Even so, all of the different clones appear to have very similar requirements, so my comments on growing this species will apply to virtually any of these plants.

 

             As with many of the other Sansevierias in cultivation, this species is easy and very adaptable: while it is best grown in bright - filtered light, properly acclimatized, this plant will tolerate full sun to deep shade. It requires very little fertilization, and infrequent watering. This plant really does seem to thrive on neglect. In many respects, the cultural requirements of this plant are identical to its close cousin, Sansevieria trifasciata, the so called “Snake Plant” or “Mother In Law’s Tongue”, but because of its thicker, cylindrical leaves, I believe that Sansevieria cylindrica may be even more drought tolerant. This plant responds well when given conditions described in the basic guidelines for growing cacti and other succulents. Unlike several other Sansevieria species which are more adapted to extreme drought, this species can produce significant annual growth (there are one or two Sansevieria species which notoriously produce no more than a single leaf each year). This past summer, each of the fans on my plants produced from 2 to 6 new leaves, and approximately 2 new fans were produced on each plant from underground rhizomes. Plants are easy to propagate by removing the rhizomes and planting 4 inch sections of these into their own pots. New plants can also be produced by rooting pieces of the cylindrical leaves. I expect that it would also be possible to raise plants from seed by harvesting the ripened berries, but I have not read any accounts on germinating Sansevieria seeds; I suspect that virtually all plants in cultivation have been propagated from leaf cuttings and rhizomes alone.

 

            This is another plant which responds especially well to growing outdoors during the warmer months of spring and summer. While growers report that (properly acclimatized) it will tolerate full sun, I chose to grow my plant under dapple shade to reduce any chance of scorching, which would have permanently scarred its leaves. Renewed growth was initially slow – my plants took a while to break out of their winter dormancy, but once growth began (about late June or early July), growth was surprisingly fast, and continued well into September and October. Even after I had moved my plants indoors for their winter dormancy, the new fans continued to produce growth into December, despite lower light levels, shorter daylength, and generally cooler temperatures and reduced water. My plants have not yet flowered for me, but once they do, I hope to grow a few seedlings from seed set on them – perhaps later in 2011 I will be able to report on this. Plants can be grown exclusively as house plants, but as a rule, annual growth will be much slower in these plants.

 

I really don’t care for the artificial appearance of braided plants, and will offer no advice on how to braid your own plant. For those persons who already have a braided plant, and are interested in discovering what typical growth on this species looks like, I would advise you to carefully unbraid its leaves to facilitate the production of new leaves, which would emerge from the center of the fans. Keep in mind that the braided leaves will be permanently kinked, or contorted, and will never become as straight as any subsequent growth. As the plant produces new growth, you may eventually choose to cut away the original braided leaves entirely (these may be rooted in their own pots to propagate new plants). Plants will eventually produce new offsets from underground rhizomes: when this happens, this may be a good time to consider re-potting this plant, as the roots and rhizomes eventually become massive, and left to their own devices, may eventually burst their way through any pot. Offsets may either be retained to produce a denser looking plant, or may be removed, and potted separately to establish new plants. Whenever potting Sansevierias, I would recommend using sturdy, extra thick-walled pots, as the standard terra cotta pots, and thin walled plastic pots will prove no match for the powerful rhizomes and roots of these species. Also consider giving these plants a bit of extra growing space when re-potting; while the Sansevierias will tolerate a remarkable degree of crowding, I feel that they respond well to a bit of extra space when repotting, especially when re-potting very young or small plants - eventually, the plant will fill any pot with its roots and offsets.

 

It would be hard to imagine an easier plant to grow than Sansevieria cylindrica. It is remarkably adaptable to a wide range of light levels and household conditions. It is resistant to insect pests and disease, and does not litter its growing space with dropped leaves, etc.. It seemingly thrives on benign neglect, tolerating long periods of drought without complaint. The only condition which seems to kill it outright is to keep its roots perpetually wet - aside from this, I have found it to be a reliable, and very long lived plant. Its fans of long, slender cylindrical leaves gives it an unusual sculptural appearance, and its flowers, while not especially showy, will perfume a room with their sweet fragrance. It may be difficult for some persons to generate a lot of interest in a plant which is now so commonplace, but some plants really deserve a second look.

 


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