Many thin green snake plant leaves growing on a forest floor, with small orange berries
Dracaena trifasciata

Snake plant

Family: Asparagaceae
Other common names: Skoonma-se-tong (Afrikaans), sansevièria (Catalan), 金邊虎尾蘭 (Chinese), tenura trojžilná (Czech), bajonetplante (Danish), langue de belle-mere (French), bogenhanf (German), lidah mertua (Indonesian), sanseveria (Italian), サンセベリア (Japanese), sansewieria gwinejska (Polish), espada de são jorge (Portuguese), Сансевиерия трёхполосная (Russian), lengua de suegra (Spanish), svärmorstunga (Swedish), ลิ้นมังกร (Thai), Сансев'єрія трисмуга (Ukrainian), Cây Lưỡi Hổ (Vietnamese)

Its low maintenance and potential health benefits make the snake plant a sought after houseplant.

Snake plants keep their stomata (microscopic pores on the leaves) closed during the day to reduce loss of water, while their opening during the night boosts the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen – while higher oxygen concentrations have been shown to help improve sleep quality, you'd need to fill your room with snake plants to gain any noticeable benefit!

Selective breeding by horticulturists has resulted in varieties of Dracaena trifasciata, with the most known being 'Moonshine' and 'Bantel’s Sensation'.

In the wild, snake plants can grow up to 2 metres (6 feet) tall, yet most kept as houseplants usually reach around 0.7 – 1 metre (2.3 – 3.2 feet).

Dracaena trifasciata is a flowering plant, native to West and West Central Africa and accustomed to dry, tropical climates. It has web-like underground roots and thick, sword-shaped leaves with a unique banded pattern. It can flower once a year, producing clusters of cream-coloured flowers, that may develop into small orange fruits. 

Dracaena trifasciata is now commonly cultivated and distributed around the world as a houseplant.

Read the scientific profile for snake plant


Fibres made from snake plants are used by African communities to produce eco-friendly and biodegradable ropes, yarn and textiles.

Indigenous populations in Malaysia have used the snake plant to treat ear infections and swelling.


The snake plant is a suitable plant for indoor landscaping. There is evidence that greenery in daily spaces can help increase concentration levels, lower stress and minimise risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Researchers have found proteins in the snake plant that show potential in slowing down the movement of cancer cells.

In other studies, scientists found that special compounds found in Dracaena trifasciata might be successful in treating alopecia.

  • A research study by NASA found that snake plants are able to draw pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde from the air.

  • The snake plant’s striped pattern is not only beautiful but also serves a defence function, allowing the plant to better blend into its natural environment.

  • Dracaena trifasciata is also known by other common names – Mother-In-Law’s tongue thanks to the visual association with sharp leaves or as African bowstring hemp as its fibres can be used to make bowstrings.

  • The snake plant is such a vigorous grower that their strong root systems can actually break through their pots.

  • In some parts of the world, like Brazil, snake plant is considered an invasive species.

  • The name Dracaena means 'female dragon' in Greek, while trifasciata means 'three bundles' in Latin.

A map of the world showing where snake plant is native and introduced to
Native: Cameroon, Central African Repu, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zaïre
Introduced: Andaman Is., Ascension, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Canary Is., Caroline Is., Chagos Archipelago, Comoros, Cook Is., Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Fiji, Florida, Galápagos, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Leeward Is., Malaya, Marianas, Marshall Is., Mauritius, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Myanmar, Nauru, Niue, Norfolk Is., Puerto Rico, Queensland, Rwanda, Réunion, Seychelles, Society Is., Solomon Is., Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Vanuatu, Venezuelan Antilles, Wake I., Windward Is.

Rocky and dry areas in West Tropical Africa

Kew Gardens

A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.


Tropical Nursery

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Best time to see
Flowers: Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct
Fruits: Oct, Nov
Foliage: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec

The snake plant has gone through a history of renaming. It was first grouped with Aloe by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

In 1903 it was morphologically identified in the genus Sansevieria by David Prain, a botanist at the time who noted Sansevieria trifasciata in his checklist of 'Bengal Plants'.

In 1905, David Prain became the director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Modern genome sequencing, with the help of the DNA Bank at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has enabled more precise investigations, placing the snake plant under the correct Dracaena genus in 2017.

The now official name, Draceaena trifasciata, was published in 2017 in Mabberley's Plant-book, whose author, David John Mabberley, works as a keeper of the Herbarium at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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The geographical areas mentioned on this page follow the World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions (WGSRPD) developed by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG).