Naming a Mystery Plant


Pots of rooted sansevieria leaf cuttings as found in so many garden centres… but what is this plant’s real name? Source:

You’ve certainly seen this plant around. In fact, it seems to be in every garden center these days. What you’ll see is a pot of short, tubular, pointed dark green leaves with lighter transverse bands and a shallow groove down the middle on one side, only about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) tall, popping out of a pot. The leaves are usually densely clustered together, although sometimes placed so as to form a fan. And the pot isn’t always labeled … and even when it is, it’s almost never labeled correctly.


The cylindrical snake plant (S. cylindrica) is a close relative, but has thicker, paler green leaves with numerous narrow channels running lengthwise. Those channels are absent from Sansevieria bacularis. Source:

What you’re seeing are leaf cuttings of a snake plant called Sansevieria bacularis, a close relative of the similar, but much thicker-leafed cylindrical snake plant (S. cylindrica). In fact, I personally confused the two when I first saw S. bacularis cuttings for the first time. I really did take them for some sort of miniature S. cylindrica.

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A mature specimen of S. bacularis looks nothing like S. cylindrica… but you can see why you might want to call it the rod-leaf snake plant! Source: Ha Keat Lim,

Since bacularis is from the Latin word baculum for rod or staff, this new plant could be called the rod-leaf snake plant.

The rod-leaf snake plant is being sold under such trade names as S. Mikado, S. Mikado Fernwood*, S. Fernwood Mikado*, S. Musica (or Musika), even spaghetti sansevieria. And it’s often being offered as belonging to one of two different Sansevieria species: S. cylindrica and S. sulcata (now S. caniculata). However, my sources (listed at the end of the article) insist that the plant in question is instead S. bacularis. If you place S. cylindrica and S. bacularis side by side, you’ll easily see the differences.

At a Glance

The “plant” I usually see is in fact simply a pot of rooted leaf cuttings and will eventually produce offsets leading to very different-looking plant with much taller leaves. Indeed, the rod-leaf snake plant can eventually attain 4 feet to 6 feet (1.2 m to 1.8 m) in height … after many, many years.

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The purple leaf sheaths show that these sprouting leaves belong to Sansevieria bacularis, not S. cylindrica. Source:

In many stores, you’ll find pots that haven’t sold and are transitioning from cuttings into actual plants. You can be sure the plants are S. bacularis by the purple leaf sheaths at the base, something you don’t see on other sansevierias.

Each specimen of the rod-leaf snake plant bears only one or (rarely) two very upright leaves surrounded by five to six short purplish basal sheaths. At maturity, the plant will even bloom, with stalks of purple-lined white flowers shorter than the leaf, if given bright enough light.

S. bacularis is a recent introduction: the Central African native was only officially described in 2010, but seems to have gained popularity very rapidly.

Confusing Nomenclature

I’ve been trying find out if the cultivar names Mikado or Musica are legitimate (i.e. if they are special selections of S. bacularis) or if they are just commercial names for the plain species, but with no luck. If anyone has more information on the history behind this plant and its multiple names, please let me know. I’ll gladly update this article to include any accurate information.

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The arching, clustered leaves show this plant to be Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’, not S. bacularis. Source:

*Then comes the confusing situation of sansevieria plants labeled Fernwood Mikado or Mikado Fernwood. There is a real S. ‘Fernwood’ (S. parva x S. suffruticosa), developed by the late hybridizer Rogers Weld of Fernwood Nursery in California, but it’s is a very different plant, with narrow leaves that are arching rather than straight and upright and flattened at the base rather than cylindrical, plus each plant produces several leaves, not just one or two. You could mistake a pot of ‘Fernwood’ leaf cuttings for S. bacularis, but certainly not an established plant.

Growing S. bacularis

What could be easier? Avoid frost and water it occasionally and it will probably grow!

OK, that was a bit simplistic, but still fairly accurate. Here’s more detail:

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This plant needs more light than sellers have been generally recommending. Source: http://www.gardentags

Salespeople seem to be telling customers that the rod-leaf snake plant is a shade plant, but don’t believe them. True enough, while it will “hold” in shade, it certainly won’t thrive there. It prefers bright light with some full sun. In fact, full sun all year is just fine, at least at higher latitudes. Under poor light, the leaves on mature specimens will be bendy and will require staking.

The rod-leaf snake plant is highly drought tolerant. Water well, then let dry. If you have to go away for a few months, just water it before you leave. It will be parched, but alive when you get back and will soon recover with judicious watering.

It tolerates both dry and humid air and any temperature above freezing if the soil is dry. If the soil is moist, keep the temperature above 45 °F (7 °C). Plant it in a well-drained mix (you might want to add ¼ parakeet gravel to your usual houseplant mix for extra weight). A heavy pot will likely be necessary to keep mature specimens from keeling over. Outside, it will grow best in arid, tropical climates, although indoor specimens will do fine outdoors for the summer in colder climes.

You can fertilize this plant or not: it doesn’t really seem to care.

And you can multiply the rod-leaf snake plant by division or leaf cuttings. In the latter case, just chop the top off a leaf (that will put an end to its growth, though!) and stick it in a pot of growing mix, watering very occasionally. It will root and eventually produce a new plant, although this can sometimes take a year or more.

The rod-leaf snake plant (Sansevieria baccularis). You’ve seen it and maybe even grow it, and now you can finally put a name on it!

Sources of Information:

A South Florida Garden Tour


Day Two: Taking in the Show at TPIE


A small section of the show at TPIE.

The TPIE (Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition) is the most important foliage and tropical plant show in North America. It’s held every January in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this year from January 18 to 20. I was able to attend this year as part of the 3-day media tour organized by the FNGLA (Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscapers Association) for members of the Garden Writers Association.

TPIE is a trade show showcasing the latest trends in foliage, floral and tropical plants. It covers nearly 5 acres (2 hectares), a virtual indoor garden of show-stopping display and gorgeous plants. It’s essentially designed to allow nurseries, and especially garden centers from eastern North America, to meet up with suppliers of products and plants from all over the world. There were some 400 booths at this year’s show including suppliers from over 30 different countries.

It’s not the first time I’ve attended this show. I’ve been twice before and indeed I’d go every year if I could. It is by far my favorite trade show… and as a garden writer who has to keep up-to-date on the latest garden trends and plants, I visit quite a few over the course of a typical year.

For me, it’s a chance to peruse the newest, most intriguing and most attractive houseplants, plus also the latest in pots and products: things I’ll be able to write about in this blog. There are no plant sales: everything is strictly wholesale… but at least I can start making a list of new plants I want to try.

Visiting the show takes essentially all day. Our group started with a very interesting lecture on how lifestyle trends affect how people buy and use plants followed by a guided tour of the showroom. Then we were on our own, schmoozing with all the nursery people. I took a ton of pictures!

Latest Trends


Cooking and edible plants ought to go together, right? Here, containers of herbs and vegetables are incorporated directly into the kitchen counter. Genial!

Wear Your Plants

This year it seems that gardeners will not only be growing plants, they’ll also be wearing them. Here are a few examples.


A tillandsia lapel pin or brooch.


Here comes the bride, all dressed in succulents!

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Even I’ve caught the bug and am wearing a tillandsia necklace. Photo: Jo Ellen Myers Sharp

Outstanding Displays

I could have presented 50 pictures here, but I cut it down to a few favorites.


A wall of color-coordinated vandas certainly draws the eye at Silver Vase Orchids & Bromeliads.


My thought is you really can’t have too many colors in a show display.


I liked the “welcome to my house” look of this display


A mind-boggling choice of orchids.

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The display by Bullis Bromeliads won first prize in its category.


This huge display, by Plants in the City, was spectacular, showing a city street with the Brooklyn bridge in the background. I can only show part of it: it was always too crowded for me to take pictures.


The display by Excelsa Gardens was an award-winner for its class.

Plants Worth Noting

Just a few of the superb plants I noted. Some of the will be making it to a garden center near you this spring!

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Exacum ‘Kandy’ has enormous flowers compared to the original Exacum affine, a some-what forgotten houseplant with paler flowers once sold under the name Persian violet.


The Soiree series of Madagascar perwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) produces masses of much tinier flowers than any I have even seen.

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There were so many bromeliads, it was hard to choose a favorite, but I finally did: Neoregelia ‘Sunkiss’

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I’ve been seeing this Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’, with its very thin almost wispy leaves, in garden centers, but this is the first time I’ve seen it labelled.

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A dwarf zee zee plant: how cool is that? Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Zamicro’.


This was my favorite foliage plant for color: Aglaonema ‘Sparkling Sarah’.

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Tillandsia ‘Samantha’: definitely a Best in Show in my eyes!

Julia Hofley, houseplant expert and fellow garden writer, and I checked notes and we both decided this plant, Tillandsia ‘Samantha’, was our favorite new plant. Well, guess what? So did the judges! It was accorded not just one, but two awards: Attendee’s Choice award and Most Unusual Plant.

Colorful Containers

This show offers lots of truly attractive containers… but using some of them is going to making gardening more difficult, as they rarely seem to have drainage holes. You might want to get out a drill if you buy one. Here are few of the more interesting ones.


Very cute pots for a mini garden… I’m not sure how the plants will get enough light, though!


Pineapple-shaped pots with a Tillandsia topping.

Lessons Learned

TPIE is a good place to go to learn how plants are treated in nurseries. Here are a few examples.


Some plants (here Fittonia) are shipped simply as stem cuttings dropped into a plastic bag: who would have thought it was so easy!


All those twisted, spiralled and braided Sansevieria cylindrica plants you see in stores are actually just leaf cuttings. Here is what they look like, freshly imported from Asia and dusted with a fungicide, before they are potted up.


I’m sorry, but there are some horticultural practices I don’t approve of, notably when gardeners are being lead to buy by a product that is not what it is purported to be. I call that horrorculture rather than horticulture.


Haworthias covered in paint: if you did this to puppies or chicks, you’d be arrested! It just makes me sick to see it!


Cactus spray-painted to make them more saleable. Atrocious.


These mosses aren’t mosses at all: they’re coloured dried reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) and quite dead. As long as you know they aren’t mosses, that’s fine. But beginning gardeners often ask me how often to water them, a sign that information is not getting out.

Just Weird

I’m not complaining: I like weird.


A moss-filled flamingo topiary filled with pink polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya).

The Party’s Over!

There was a Happy Hour for all the exhibitors and guests after the show… but I was so burned out I returned to my hotel… to work on preparing this blog.