You’ve probably seen them in a garden center or even a supermarket: pointed tubular stems perfectly aligned in a pot, all of the same height. They look like dark green candles! Or maybe you saw them braided together. They’re obviously plants of some sort, but what kind exactly?

Rooted cuttings of Dracaena angolensis (syn. Sansevieria cylindrica)..

Not a Plant but Cuttings

These strange plants are actually cylindrical snake plants, also called spear sansevierias (Dracaena angolensis syn. Sansevieria cylindrica). To be more precise, they’re actually leaf cuttings of cylindrical snake plants. Yes, the “stems” are actually thick, succulent leaves. Cuttings not plants… and they’re not always even rooted when you buy them!

Braided leaf cuttings.

For months, perhaps even a year, your pot of cuttings won’t change in the slightest. It neither declines nor grows: there is no obvious sign of life. You’d be forgiven for coming to believe that you bought a plastic plant. Then all of a sudden you notice a small plant growing at the base of one of the leaves, then another, and another. Each leaf, assuming it indeed it did take root rather than rot, will produce one offset.

The offsets too will grow slowly (the cylindrical snake plant is never in a hurry), but they’ll never take on the form of the original potted cuttings. That’s because the cylindrical snake plant actually grows in a fan, a flattened rosette with each leaf growing alternately, first to one side then the other. Younger leaves are fairly upright at first, but as new leaves appear, they get pushed further to one side and are soon growing at an angle. Eventually some of the older leaves will literally be growing horizontally.

Note too that none of the leaves will be braided, either. That really would be too much to ask!

Expect change

Eventually the original leaf cuttings themselves will rot away, leaving you with a series of green fans instead of the original upright candles. And the offsets will continue to grow, with leaves reaching up to 3 feet (90 cm) long. Over time, the plants will completely fill their pot, as they will produce even more offsets. Maybe your cylindrical snake plant will even begin to bloom, producing a spike of white flowers that are fragrant at night only. But that will take several years.

Plant with a burgeoning offset: note its fan-shaped growth habit.

Money, Money, Money

Cylindrical snake plants are grown on a massive scale in Asia, all to produce cuttings to sell to naïve gardeners. The growers have discovered that they can take a dirt-cheap product and sell it for a good price if they just present it properly. They’ll literally stop at nothing to make money on the back of ill-informed consumers.

We’ve already seen that growers are selling you leaf cuttings while making you believe you’ve bought a mature plant (and cuttings that are not necessarily even rooted!). And they’ll braid the leaves together and even attach them with gold thread to make the product even more enticing. But have you seen the latest? Yes, they’re now selling leaf cuttings dipped in paint. Apparently, people can’t get enough of the new color-coded sansevierias! I find that kind of plant abuse out and out sickening.

Another way to boost sales is to give the plant enticing names. One supplier now calls the cuttings “Spear Orchids”, ignoring the fact that the plant is in the Asparagaceae family, not the orchid family and will never produce anything even close to an orchid flower. After all, who doesn’t want a nice orchid at a reasonable price?

Or maybe you find the name “African Spear” more attractive? At least that name makes some sense: the plant does come from Africa and the leaf is indeed spear-shaped.

The most horrifying name has to be “Wisdom Horns”! Yes, some growers claim that growing this plant in your home will make you smarter! And I quote ” As your own wisdom expands, more horns grow.” They really do take consumers for idiots!

Leaf  cuttings dipped in paint: people actually buy these!

Despite all these artifices, the fact remains that the cylindrical snake plant makes an excellent houseplant that will take almost any conditions you throw at it.

The potted cuttings you bought are actually the most fragile stage, very subject to rot if the soil remains wet for long. So, at this stage especially, keep the plant almost dry, watering only when the soil is really dry to the touch, perhaps every two weeks.

The plant that emerges from the cutting, though, is much tougher. In fact, it is almost indestructible. It will:

  • tolerate sun or shade;
  • withstand both skimpy watering and heavy watering (as long as you don’t leave the pot soaking in water for days on end);
  • put up with dry air;
  • take any temperature above freezing;
  • grow whether you fertilize regularly or not at all;
  • thrive even if you never repot it.

Do you travel a lot? Just water yours well before leaving: when you get back 6 or 7 months later, it will be a little wrinkled, but still alive!

That said, you do need patience: the cylindrical snake plant grows very slowly, in fact almost imperceptibly, but it does grow.

Your plant will eventually bloom… if you grow it in bright light or full sun.

Making It Happy

So your cylindrical snake plant will take almost any condition and any treatments. But what does it really like?

It helps to understand that the plant is a succulent native to Angola where it grows under arid conditions. So what it really likes is full sun, being watered only when the soil is dry to the touch and very little fertilizer. Flowering, especially, can only be expected if the plant receives at least bright light.

You can multiply your sansevieria by leaf cuttings, of course: just cut off a leaf and insert it into a pot of soil (don’t try rooting it in water, there is too much risk of rot!). Keep the mix nearly dry, especially at first. The cutting will probably take months before it forms a few roots and a year or more to produce an offset.

That said, it is much easier to produce the plant by division. Just unpot the mother plant and separate one or two offsets with their rhizome intact, then pot them up.

My own S. cylindrica, a huge monster of a plant I haven’t repotted in 5 years, was actually grown from seed. It was slow going, but nevertheless easy to do.

And there you go! Fill your house with offsets of this plant and you’ll certainly become the wisest person in your neighborhood. After all, if 1.5 billion Chinese people believe that, it must surely be true!

This text was first published on this blog on December 26, 2015. It has been revised and the layout updated.

19 comments on “Strange Cuttings

  1. Well, it certainly is a weird one. To me, it somehow does not seem to be quite as tacky as lucky ‘bamboo’.

  2. Christine Lemieux

    I have never seen one of these plants, but articles like this one, straightforward, full of good information and Larry’s personality that remind me of what an incredible man he was.

  3. Thank you for this information . I purchased one of these a few months ago thinking I had a mature plant . Now I know I had a pot of cuttings. I separated some leaves from the big pot and put them in a smaller pot. I’m thrilled to say both pots have new growth popping up and are doing very well. This article is great . Now I know what to expect and can enjoy it even more .

  4. Hi! I have one of these (the barely-rooted leaf cuttings kind) that I bought about six months ago and there are several babies growing now! They’re between half an inch and maybe two inches long. I think the small pot they’re in is very crowded right now, do you think I can repot the different clumps?”I do want to keep the babies attached to their mother leaves.

    • Sure, you can repot. Each leaf will likely give one “clump” (which is a plant) and the plants will do better if they’re not crowded into one pot.

  5. I purchased a braided version of this plant a few months ago. It now has an offset for each leaf and those are multiple inches long. Is there a way to braid the offsets to create a second plant I can separate and gift to someone else?

    • Not really. Theoretically, you could wait until the plants are mature, then harvest the leaves, braid them and root them, but that’s going to take years! If you want to gift braided leaves, buy a pot of them.

  6. Darlene Badger

    The first time I saw this plant I was determined to get one. I went to a lot of trouble to find one and finally did. I later bought one for my sister. I have read a lot of information on it and really appreciate your information. Right now one of the leaves is rotting and I have read that cutting it off is the thing to do. Should I cut it off just at the point of rot or all the way to the base of the plant? Thanks, Darlene

    • If it’s rotting, cut it back to below the point where rot has set in. Or just remove it! (I’m assuming you have more than one leaf anyway and probably don’t need a whole horde of baby plants!

  7. Hi! Thanks for your informative and fun to read article. My plant is very top heavy, the spears are no longer fanning and just topple over. What is the best way to manage this? Thank you in advance for your time.

  8. This was a very will-written, funny, and informative article–thank you! The plant I bought was actually an adult in a fan shape. It was with the other snake plant varieties, but I wasn’t sure exactly what the plant would like or if it could be propagated from a leaf cutting like other snake plants–the leaves are so different. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Ditto. I don’t water my snake plant very off, but my husband and my neighbor who watches the house when we’re away, has been overzealous. The plant is in bad shape, but enough good leaves have survived for cuttings. I will rescue it and re-propotage. Thanks.

  10. A voice of reason at last. I found it strange how people actually prefer fakes to natural plants.

  11. Titania yng Nghymru

    Bought this kooky plant today and another one some time earlier and I was looking for some care instructions when I found your post.
    Thank you for your honest and very enlightening article!

  12. Carolyn Griffin

    I felt sorry for it in the garden centre, it was plaited and I thought it really ugly and it was reduced so I rescued it! Thanks for info

  13. Thank you for the plant information. I was one of those naive gardeners who thought I bought a plant. I realised it was a cutting after one of the spears came out of potting soil. Hopefully cuttings will root and not die.

  14. Thanks so much for all your “wisdom” and information around these weird looking plants. I look forward to mine growing bigger and bigger

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