Perhaps as a trade-off for being given such an indelicate name, the mother-in-law's tongue plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) is unlikely to reward you with its fragrant flowers. When the flowers do appear, they will likely take you by surprise. Although the blooming habit of this plant is -- at best -- infrequent, with diligent care and a lot of patience, you may be able to coax this plant into giving you a floral show in spring.
Typically, mother-in-law's tongue -- also called snake plant -- is grown as a houseplant. If you live in its perennial range, U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12, you can also grow it in your garden. Its forgiving nature and tolerance of harsh growing conditions is a two-edged sword: Although it can survive drought, poor soil and a range of lighting conditions, it may not thrive to the point of bearing flowers under these circumstances.
Optimal Flowering Conditions
Mother-in-law's tongue likes a tight fit in its container -- a condition called being pot bound. Although you can grow it in a large pot, you may never see it bloom, because its roots may not ever grow to the limits of the pot.
No matter the size of its container, this plant needs good drainage, because it is susceptible to root and crown rots -- fungal diseases that prosper in wet and waterlogged soil. Make sure the pot has a drainage hole so the water drains freely from the bottom.
Because snake plant is not fussy about soil, you can use a soil-based medium or a soilless potting mix, particularly one that is blended for cactuses and succulents.
If you grow mother-in-law's tongue outdoors year-round, planting it in a container or in a raised bed improves the drainage.
During mother-in-law's tongue growing season -- typically spring through fall -- water it thoroughly until the water drains from the bottom of the pot. Wait until the soil is dry to the touch before watering again. Water infrequently during the fall and winter, just enough to moisten the soil.
Keep water out of the center rosette, because it will collect there and it may cause the crown to rot.
Bright light is best. Although mother-in-law's tongue can tolerate some direct sun, protect them from full sun, particularly in the afternoon.
An old plant is the best candidate for flowering, but only if all the optimal growing conditions are met.
When mother-in-law's tongue does flower, it's in spring. It produces small, fragrant, greenish-white flowers borne in sprays. Orange berries follow the flowers.
Victoria Lee Blackstone, Horticulturist, Master Gardener Course Instructor
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper articles. After studying botany and microbiology at Clemson University, Blackstone was hired as a University of Georgia Master Gardener Coordinator. She is also a former mortgage acquisition specialist for Freddie Mac in Atlanta, GA.