The Ins and Outs of Growing Sansevieria Cylindrica

About Sansevieria cylindrica


If you’re in search of an unusual houseplant to add to your collection, you’ve found it. There’s really nothing like this funky species, which can be recognized by its stiff, tubular leaves that grow from a central rosette. 

Although the Sansevieria cylindrica specimens you’ll find for sale at your local plant store tend to be small, this plant can actually grow very tall (up to around 6 feet!). Its leaves are slightly ribbed and usually have dark green, horizontal banding. They can reach over an inch in diameter.

Healthy Sansevieria plants sometimes bloom in the home. Their little white flowers grow on a long flower spike, making for a kind of brush-like look (as seen in the image above).

Sansevieria naming

If you’ve been collecting houseplants for a while, you’re likely aware that their scientific names can change. DNA research can lead botanists to discover that the family links between plants aren’t as they originally thought, which can cause species to be moved to different genera or even new genera to be erected.

This is exactly what happened to the genus Sansevieria. A 2014 study revealed that almost all of the species in this iconic houseplant genus actually belonged in the equally iconic genus Dracaena (and one in the monotypic genus Reineckea). 

In some cases, like with Sansevieria cylindrica, the species name also changed.

This plant is now officially called Dracaena angolensis, although many sources continue to call it (and other former Sansevierias) by its old name. I’ll do the same here, unless I’m talking about the species in a scientific context. 

The whole change led to a good bit of confusion, because the Dracaena species we’re familiar with in the houseplant world (like  really don’t look much like the plants formerly known as Sansevieria at all.

Also known as dragon trees—as the name suggests—they have a more tree-like appearance. Alas, the science doesn’t lie: they’re very closely related.

Natural habitat

This plant’s new scientific name, Dracaena angolensis, gives us a pretty good clue as to where it’s from.

It’s mostly known from Angola, a country in southern Africa that features both tropical and desert habitats. Today’s subject is principally found in the latter: It’s a xerophyte, a fancy word for a plant that doesn’t need a lot of water.

Sansevieria cylindrica is also an introduced species in a bunch of different countries, including in Florida in the US. This is probably the result of plants “escaping” from parks and gardens. 


As I’ve briefly mentioned, Sansevieria cylindrica is also sometimes referred to as “bowstring hemp”. This is because the leaves of plants formerly known as Sansevieria can indeed be used to produce fibers, which in turn can be twisted or braided together into rope.

Fibers made of Sansevieria cylindrica leaves are apparently pretty strong!

Sansevieria cylindrica varieties

As with many other houseplants, nurseries have managed to create a few different Sansevieria cylindrica varieties through selective cultivation. These are called cultivars.

Let’s have a look at the ones you may come across in your local plant store. I unfortunately can’t find patents for any of these, so it’s not really clear who created them and when.

Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Boncel’

Also known as Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Starfish’ or incorrectly as Sansevieria cylindrica boncellensis (as if it were a subspecies, which it’s not), S. cylindrica ‘Boncel’ is probably the most common cultivar of this plant.

Much more compact than the wild form of this plant, the leaves on ‘Boncel’ grow in a sort of fan shape. There’s even a ‘Dwarf Boncel’, which is supposed to stay even smaller!

Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Dragon Fingers’

Although it’s often referred to in a manner that suggests it is, I don’t think ‘Dragon Fingers’ is an actual cultivar of Sansevieria cylindrica. Rather, it’s a name often given to braided versions of the plant. 

These appear to be the same as the wild type, except their leaves are braided together as they grow. It’s a neat look, and it doesn’t seem to harm the plant.

Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Mohawk’

I’ve seen this cultivar popping up for sale now and then here in the US. It looks somewhat similar to a ‘Boncel’, with a fan-like growth pattern. The difference is in the fact that the leaves point straight up rather than in all directions. 

Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Medusa’ 

How whimsical is this one! Sansevieria ‘Medusa’ looks quite similar to the original wild-type plant, but there is a difference. The leaves don’t grow straight up, but are slightly wavy. Perfect if you want something just a little bit different. 

Bonus: Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’

As so often happens with houseplants, there is some degree of confusion surrounding Sansevierias. They aren’t always labeled correctly, which means it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which species you’re actually dealing with. 

One example is Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’, a cultivar often thought to be (and frequently sold as) an S. cylindrica.

It is, in fact, not! Although the two are very similar in looks, ‘Fernwood’ is actually a cross between S. parva and S. suffruticosa.

You may also find Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’ sold as ‘Mikado’, ‘Mikado Fernwood’, ‘Fernwood Punk’ and other names. You can tell it apart from S. cylindrica by its concave leaves.

Bonus #2: Sansevieria bacularis

Another plant that’s often confused with Sansevieria cylindrica (and also with Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’) is a species formerly scientifically known as S. bacularis (now Dracaena bacularis).

It’s sometimes called ‘Mikado’, which doesn’t help, as that name is also used for the aforementioned ‘Fernwood’ plant!

You can tell Sansevieria bacularis, whose care is identical to the other two, apart by the purple sheaths at the base of its leaves. 

By the way, I’ve seen plants being called Sansevieria cylindrica bacularis, as if it were a subspecies. This is not correct.

Caring for Sansevieria cylindrica

Light and temperature

When it comes to Sansevieria care, it’s important to talk about light. This genus, including S. cylindrica, is often marketed as the perfect houseplant choice for low-light locations. 

Now, it’s true that Sansevierias do indeed tend to survive even if they don’t get a lot of light. They’re just really, really hardy!

But is a dark corner in your home their ideal location? Of course not—unfortunately, only fake plants do well without light.

Consider Sansevieria cylindrica’s natural habitat: open (semi-)desert with barely any cover. This plant has evolved to be used to being blasted with sun!

In your home, it will therefore actually do best directly in front of the brightest window you can offer it. 

For even better growth, you can place your plant outdoors during the summer months so it can soak up the sun. If you’re in a warm climate, it can even stay there year-round.

Will your Sansevieria survive in a darker spot? Yes, it might look nice enough for a few years.

But will it grow? Unlikely. It’ll actually be dying, just in extreme slow motion.

As for temperature, these plants aren’t too fussy. As you can imagine, given where they’re from, high temps are no problem for a cylindrical snake plant.

They do best at room temperature or above, but as long as you keep its soil dry, yours should be able to survive all the way down to just above freezing (around 35°F). 

Soil and planting

Planting a Sansevieria is straightforward as long as you keep its xerophytic nature in mind. Your planter should always have a drainage hole, as these plants hate wet feet. Their roots can rot if they’re left standing in water.

A pot made of unglazed terracotta, a porous material that allows water to evaporate, might be ideal.

For the soil, buy or mix something nice and gritty. Store-bought succulent and cactus soils don’t tend to be well-draining enough in my opinion, so I either buy a specialty snake plant potting mix or I make my own. 

It’s extremely simple and works for all kinds of succulents and cacti, not just this one:

  • 1 part high-quality houseplant potting soil
  • 1 part perlite
  • 1 part fine orchid bark
Water and humidity

As you’ve probably gathered, it’s generally better to underwater a Sansevieria cylindrica than to overwater it. This especially applies if your plant isn’t getting a lot of light (meaning it won’t use moisture as quickly) or if its soil doesn’t drain very well.

If you’ve got the light and soil situation under control, your snake plant will appreciate being watered whenever its soil has gone fully dry. How often that is depends on the season and conditions. 

A Sansevieria cylindrica grown outdoors during high summer might want a drink every three days, while one that’s kept inside may only need water every one, maybe one-and-a-half weeks.

During winter, when your plant is likely dormant, you probably only have to water it once every month or so.

Water deeply, soaking the soil until the moisture runs out of the planter’s drainage hole, and then leave the plant alone until it has dried completely.

Humidity is really not a concern for Sansevierias at all. This is good news for the desert dwellers among us who have trouble growing moisture-loving tropicals!