Gardening

Is This the Hardiest Indoor Plant Ever?

It barely needs water or light, and loves being left alone—somebody pinch me.

May  6, 2022
Photo by Bloomscape

“I need a plant,” I said. To which Jarema Osofsky—aka, Dirt Queen NYC, aka, plant-problem-solver—nodded helpfully. I explained: “Well…it’s for this weird corner that’s wedged between a large crockery cupboard and a wall. It gets no light and no air—and oh, I’m known to forget to water my plants from time to time.”

I stopped, bracing myself for: “Get a plastic plant.” Instead, she said: “Get a snake plant.”

It’s been months since I brought home my snake plant, or Sansevieria, and it hasn’t just transformed that corner with its strong, sculptural form (perfect for fans of modernism!), it’s actually looking really healthy. No thanks to me: I only water it when I remember to, and consistently deny it food and fresh air. In contrast, my rubber plant has been dropping an alarming number of leaves, and my monstera’s leaves refuse to split, despite coaxing.

But the snake plant goes beyond just being a chill plant; it is actually happier left alone. “My snake plant is possibly one of the most consistent things in my life. Somehow, through all the many cycles of extreme neglect and under-watering, it’s remained weirdly healthy—it’s almost as though it thrives on abandonment,” says Caroline Mullen, former associate editor and fellow fan of low-maintenance greenery.

What makes this plant so…impossible to kill and easy to love? I checked in with Osofsky and asked for the best ways to care for it (even if it seems like it doesn’t need it).

Here are nine things you should know about the hardiest indoor plant ever:

Photo by Bloomscape

They can grow both outside and in

As if I needed any more reasons to love this plant! They’re very amenable to many conditions, and can grow both in pots and in the ground (note: in Zones 9 and warmer).

They come in all sizes

Snake plants make for great little tabletop plants (or bathroom windowsill plants), but you can just as easily find really tall ones up to eight feet. Because it’s a slow-growing plant, the tabletop version can stay that way for ages. However, in stronger natural light, they’ll grow faster.

The color of its leaves can change

If it’s a cave you’re putting your plant into, like I basically did, try and get one with the darker green leaves. Snake plants with brighter variegations will become less patterned in lower light.

They need water infrequently (yes, you read that right!)

“Snake plants are native to arid climates, so they've evolved to be very drought-resistant. This means they can go weeks without water in our homes and persevere,” says Osofsky. Her best tip: Let the soil thoroughly dry out before watering again—every 10 days or so. The best way to tell is to feel the top few inches of soil to see if it's moist or dry. In the winter, plants go dormant and receive less light, so it's better to only water every 3-4 weeks. (In fact, the one thing that will kill your snake plant is overwatering.)

Also, remember not to water into their rosettes; water around the plant instead.

…But like well-draining soil

Snake plants are so convenient to have because they like being dry. Osofsky recommends using well-draining succulent soil and a planter with a drainage hole. The plant will survive if you’re heavy-handed with the water once in a while, but it really doesn’t enjoy having its roots sit in soggy soil.

…And indirect light

Snake plants grow in both bright shade and less light—and in my case, no light. “They prefer to be placed in ambient, indirect light. If they are receiving direct light, they can dry out fairly quickly and may need water closer to every 10 days,” says Jarema.

There’s more than one kind

There are many different snake plant species on the market with new ones being added all the time. “I love the Sansevieria Lancia—it’s so elegant and sculptural, and can get to be quite tall—and the dwarf Sansevieria Trifasciata,” says Osofsky.

Photo by Green Digs

You’ll never have to buy another

Snake plants are easily divided any time of year. However, spring is your best bet. Your newly propagated plants will also then grow faster, as summer is chief growing season.

However, it’s not for Fido

According to the ASPCA, this plant is somewhat toxic to cats and dogs, which means chewing or ingestion can result in vomiting. Our advice? Keep it out of reach—on open shelves and in tall planters.


This post was updated May 2022 with our favorite places to shop for snake plants.

How much do you love your snake plant? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Barb
    Barb
  • W B
    W B
  • Arati Menon
    Arati Menon
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • robin
    robin
Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

10 Comments

Barb November 8, 2020
I bought a snake plant in 1971 in the supermarket. Just married and living in D.C. I moved to NYC in 74, bought a house on LI in 84, moved 3 times ther and then moved to Fl. On my third abode a condo and it’s still with me.
I had separated two blades and it’s
Flourishing! At least 7 blades in one year! What a plant! I think it’s my good luck!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. November 8, 2020
It’s almost 50 years old! It must really love being in your home, Barb.
 
W B. November 8, 2020
I think you forgot to mention that this plant improves the air quality of a room. That’s why I bought mine. It’s currently on my back patio . I plan to repot and separate as it’s grown outdoors. I will bring them in when I hear of a possible frost. I’m in the midlands of SC and today, Nov 8 may reach 77 degrees. I have both the tall and short plants. I like what I’ve always heard them called “mother-in-law’s tongue”!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. November 8, 2020
You’re very right—it certainly does improve air quality. Such a great plant in every way.
 
Smaug May 8, 2022
Well, maybe to a tiny extent. One of the troubles with the "no care" plants that are increasingly dominating plantings around homes as well as houseplants- other than boringness- is that they tend to be largely passive, with very low transpiration rates, so they're not going to have much effect on air quality.
 
robin May 15, 2022
So all the plant experts have been giving us the wrong information all this time! Thanks for enlightening us. I have 2 huge snake plants that are a result of me inheriting my grandma’s in the 70’s.I’ve separated them many times and even rooted babies from broken stems. Yes they even love being root bound. Mine are at least 4 feet tall and babies running around the house too!
 
Smaug May 16, 2022
If they've been telling you that Sansevieria has a high transpiration rate, which is highly doubtful, you need some new experts. All plants do not behave thee same, any more than all animals do.
 
W B. May 16, 2022
Smug… I have always had a dislike for Sanservia because of their common name and “boringness” I had to look up the meaning of “high transpiration rate” as I never heard the phrase. I have no gardening skills at all and admire the neglect this plant can take. Mine are about to go outside today on my patio in filtered light. What a downer to learn they don’t improve the air in my bedroom!
 
Smaug May 16, 2022
As you have no gardening knowledge or skills, perhaps you could consider the presentation of some simple, and very basic, facts about plants as an opportunity to learn something rather than a personal attack. In which vein, I will avoid any footling attempts at wit at your expense and hope you at least learned what "transpiration" means. The art of horticulture is all but dead in this country, and ignorance begeetss ignorance.
 
W B. May 16, 2022
Actually I did learn something so I thank you!