Sansevieria trifasciata

Possibly the most ubiquitous house plant in the western world, Sansevieria trifasciata is well known as “Snake Plant” or “Mother-In-Laws Tongue.” S. trifasciata is prized as a houseplant since it requires little care to maintain an attractive plant. Yet recent studies have demonstrated that keeping S. trifasciata indoors may actually be good for your health: it has been found that S. trifasciata is one of the most efficient plants for cleaning the air by removing toxins such as formaldehyde that are present in homes and offices.[1]

Sansevieria trifasciata
Sansevieria trifasciata. Photo by Jason Carley
However, S. trifasciata is much more than a simple houseplant. Sansevieria trifasciata has been an incredibly important plant used for centuries to produce high-quality cordage for the making of rope, baskets, bowstrings, and many other products. In fact, during the 1920s the high demand throughout Europe for S. trifasciata cordage led to the growth of central and southern Florida as an important region for plant production that continues to this day. Prior to World War II, much of the fiber cordage used in the United States was imported from Latin America and Africa. It was thought that in the event of a crisis these supplies might be cut off and major effort was directed at implementing a growing program for S. trifasciata in order to ensure a source of fiber for the United States.[2] Following the war, new technologies arose to create synthetic fibers such as rayon and nylon and the large-scale production of S. trifasciata diminished. S. trifasciata is, however, still used by many indigenous groups around the world and it remains a well-loved plant in the United States.

[1] Zhou Junhui; Qin Feifei; Su Jie; et al. (2011) Purification of formaldehyde-polluted air by indoor plants of Araceae, Agavaceae and Liliaceae. Journal of Food Agriculture & Environment 9:1012-1018.

[2] Henley, R. W. (1982) Sansevieria in Florida – Past and Present. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 95:295-298.