Caring for bow hemp properly

Caring for bow hemp properly

Origin and Distribution

The bow hemp has been a popular and easy-care houseplant in German living rooms for decades. Its botanical name, Sansevieria, is a reference to the famous Italian nobleman and patron of the sciences Pietro Antonio Sanseverino (1724-1772), who cultivated the exotic plants in his garden as early as the 18th century. Even today, the bow hemp is widespread in many gardens in southern Europe and on the Mediterranean islands, but it also occurs in wild form.

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The plant, jokingly referred to as the “mother-in-law's tongue” because of its pointed leaves, originally comes from the dry, warm climate of the tropical regions of Central and East Africa, where it is at home in numerous species, especially in the deserts of Kenya and Tanzania. A few of the total of 67 species also occur in tropical Asia, especially in India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Many Sansevieria species have fiber-rich leaves, which have long been an important raw material for the manufacture of baskets, mats and other wickerwork, as well as ropes, bowstrings and clothing. The German name “Bogenhanf” refers to this purpose, although the importance of the plant has declined significantly since the triumphant advance of various synthetic fibers.

Today, from a botanical point of view, the genus Sansevieria is classified in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) and is closely related to the Dracaena (dragon tree), but does not belong to this. In the past, bow hemp was considered a member of the agave family (Agavoideae) because of its superficial optical similarity, but this has not been scientifically confirmed.


As a tropical desert plant, Sansevieria is not frost hardy in this country and can therefore only be cultivated as an indoor plant. In climatically more favorable regions, however, for example in the Mediterranean region and in the south of the USA, the plant is also very popular in the garden. Use as a kind of property delimitation is widespread here.

In Africa, the fibrous leaves of some types of bow hemp are used to make baskets, mats, bowstrings, ropes and even clothing. This is also referred to by the alternative name “African sisal”, which is still used today to advertise certain handicraft products. Other species such as Sansevieria ehrenbergii found and are used because of their antiseptic ingredients in folk medicine in some regions and countries of Africa, for example for the treatment of ulcers and skin rashes.

Appearance and stature

The Sansevieria species cultivated as house plants - Sansevieria trifasciata and Sansevieria cylindrica - do not form a stem. Instead, they are perennial, evergreen succulents, the fleshy leaves of which arise directly from the underground rhizomes. Over time, the plants form ever more extensive clumps, which, if not repotted regularly, can even blow up the planter. The aboveground runners through which the bow hemp practically reproduces are also typical.


Typical of the leaves of the species Sansevieria trifasciata are the broad, pointed and thick-fleshed leaves, depending on the species. These are either arranged like a rosette or grow upright. The different varieties of Sansevieria cylindrica, on the other hand, have round leaves that can be up to 150 centimeters long. With regard to the numerous variants in the leaf pattern, the around 70 varieties are very diverse: In addition to varieties with monochrome dark green leaves, there are numerous forms with yellow, light or dark green transverse bands as well as those with speckles in different shades of green.

Flowers and fruits

If the bow hemp is well cared for according to its needs, it sometimes develops a flower after a few years. The sweet-smelling, greenish-white flowers are arranged like panicles on a short shaft and only open at night. In nature, pollination takes place by moths, which of course do not degenerate in this country. For this reason, seeds usually do not develop that would otherwise develop in the orange to red berries of the Sansevieria. After flowering, the flower-bearing shoot dies, but not the plant. Blossoms on bow hemp are very rare in indoor culture and therefore always a specialty.


In particular, Sansevieria cylindrica, which has become increasingly popular as a houseplant in recent years, contains poisonous saponins and should therefore be kept away from small children and pets - especially cats, dogs and rodents such as guinea pigs and rabbits. Poisoning, for example triggered by eating the thick leaves, typically manifests itself as nausea, combined with cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. In the event of poisoning, give the person concerned plenty of water (non-carbonated and under no circumstances milk!) To drink and consult a doctor or veterinarian immediately.

Which location is suitable?

The bow hemp thrives best in the most sunny and warm locations, for example right next to a south-facing window. The distinctive leaf patterns of many varieties only develop when there is sufficient light, while the leaves quickly turn dark green in dark locations. Make sure, however, that you slowly get the plant used to direct sun - especially when it is midday sun - otherwise there is a risk of leaf burns. The frugal Sansevieria also thrives in shadier and cooler places, but then grows much more slowly.

As a desert dweller, the Bogenhaft tolerates drought and cooler temperatures very well, although these must not fall below 12 ° C. The plant feels most comfortable in a warm and humid environment, which is why many people like to put the bow hemp in the bathroom or kitchen. During the warm summer months you can cultivate the plant on the balcony or terrace - of course with a corresponding, slow acclimatization to the new location - but you should bring it in in good time in early autumn and in cold and rainy weather conditions.

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As a desert plant, the bow hemp prefers a rather dry, well-drained and mineral substrate. Cactus soil is very suitable, as is an unmixed mix of compost soil and a third of sand or gravel. For better permeability, add perlite, (€ 32.90 at Amazon *) foams or another clay granulate etc. to this mixture. Ä. added. On the other hand, commercially available flower or green plant soil is less suitable, even if the bow hemp - adaptable as it is - will grow in it. Garden soil is also not suitable. On the other hand, Sansevieria are grateful candidates for hydroponics, for which you should choose a small to medium-sized grain.

Planting bow hemp correctly

Since the leaves of the Sansevieria can reach heights of between 100 and 150 centimeters, they often reach a corresponding weight. These tall varieties become quite top-heavy over the years, which is why you should place them in planters made of heavy materials such as clay or ceramics to protect them from tipping over. In addition, the pots should have as wide a diameter as possible, as the thick rhizomes of the Sansevieria spread out just below the substrate surface. The vessel can also be rather flat for this.

When planting the bow hemp, it is essential to ensure good drainage in the pot, as the desert dweller can only tolerate permanent moisture and especially waterlogging with difficulty. The planter must have a sufficiently large drainage hole on the bottom and be on a saucer or in a planter. Excess irrigation water can flow into here, from which you can quickly remove it after watering. In turn, cover the drainage hole with a few pieces of pottery to avoid clogging due to silting up and also put a thin layer of gravel or a layer of clay granulate in it. Only then fill in the substrate.


With Sansevieria, you can tell when it is the right time to repot by the roots growing out of the pot, but also by the occasional kinking leaves - these break because their rhizome is no longer sufficiently anchored in the substrate for a firm hold. If the plant does not yet need a larger container or is already in a large pot, you should still replace the top substrate layer every year. The best time to repot is spring between March and April.

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Pour bow hemp

Sansevieria have thick, fleshy leaves that store a lot of water and are perfect for arming the succulent plant for longer dry periods. For this reason, the bow hemp tolerates drought excellently, persistent moisture or even waterlogging, on the other hand, only with difficulty or not at all. Therefore, the plants should only be watered a little and dried thoroughly in between. Water during the growing season so that the substrate is well moistened. The root ball can then dry out once, this does not harm the plant at all. In the winter months, however, the water is only poured in sips. In every season of the year you measure the right time for watering with the help of your index finger: stick it into the substrate and feel its moisture.If the soil is already well dried a few centimeters deep, water can be given again.

When watering, be very careful not to wet the leaves. In particular, when the water collects in the leaf rosettes, rot quickly develops. Incidentally, overwatering can be seen quickly on soft leaves and / or rotten areas. A moldy smell from the pot indicates that root rot has already occurred.

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Fertilize bow hemp properly

Restraint is required not only when watering, but also when fertilizing. Too much fertilizer also causes soft leaves, which then snap off quickly and / or break off. Yellowish to brownish discolorations are also not uncommon in this case. Fertilize the bow hemp no more than once a month between April and August, for which you should use a low-dose cactus fertilizer. Halve the amount given in the manufacturer's application description, because Sansevieria do not have a high nutritional requirement and get by with significantly less. Use a liquid fertilizer that you give along with the irrigation water. Never fertilize on dry substrate as this can cause root damage. In the other months between September and March, however, there is no fertilization, only little watering.

Cut bow hemp correctly

Some types and varieties of bow hemp can get quite high leaves with 100 to 150 centimeters and thus become too big for the windowsill. However, the plants grow very slowly, so it can take a few years to reach a suitable size. If you still want to be on the safe side, choose a variety that stays low, such as Sansevieria trifasciata Hahnium.

Cutting back the leaves is definitely not recommended for bow hemp, because the corresponding shoots do not sprout again. Instead, an unsightly edge remains that turns brown. Such a cut also represents a gateway for fungi and other pathogens, so that the plant does not only lose its visual appeal. However, instead of pieces of leaf, whole leaves can be cut off just above the substrate, for example to remove brown and dried leaves or to obtain cuttings.

Propagate bow hemp

Sansevieria can be easily propagated by leaf cuttings and, in the case of large plants, by dividing them.

Propagation by cuttings

When propagating bow hemp cuttings, you need patience, because the slow growth of the plant means that it takes a few years before a sizable plant has emerged. However, it is also a lot of fun to raise the tiny one yourself from the start. And that's how it works:

  • Cut off a whole sheet just above the ground.
  • Divide this evenly into pieces approx. Ten centimeters in size.
  • Make a mark for “top” or “bottom” with a pen.
  • Dip the lower cut edge in a rooting powder.
  • Place the cuttings with the lower edge several centimeters deep in a growing medium. (€ 9.05 at Amazon *)
  • Place the nursery pot in a light and warm, but not directly sunny location.
  • Keep the substrate evenly moist, but not wet.
  • “Tense air”, ie a foil cover or similar, is not necessary.

After a few weeks, the cuttings develop the first roots, and the first offshoots appear a little later. Now you can remove the piece of leaf, as the actual plant grows out of the rhizome that has emerged. By the way, variegated varieties should always be propagated by division, since their cuttings usually develop green leaves of a single color.

Multiplication by division

Specimens that have grown too large can be shared without hesitation, which is best done in connection with a repotting that is due anyway. Have a separate pot with a suitable substrate ready for each new individual plant. This is how sharing works:

  • Lift the bow hemp out of the planter.
  • Carefully remove the substrate from the roots.
  • Look for small side shoots or offshoots or side rosettes, which should preferably be separated.
  • If necessary, cut it off from the mother plant with a sharp, disinfected knife.
  • If the plant is still too big, you can divide it all up.
  • Each piece of rhizome should have at least one shoot, preferably more than two.
  • Plant the sections separately immediately after dividing them.
  • You can use cactus soil or a mixture of soil and sand for this.

Rooting powder is not necessary in this case, after all, the pieces are already rooted. Otherwise care for the new Sansevieria like the adult bow hemp.

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Since the bow hemp is not hardy, it has to overwinter frost-free. He does this at around 13 to 16 ° C and very sparingly watering. Of course, you can continue to cultivate the succulents in a warm living room, but the plant survives the low-light period best in a cooler room. During this time, the bow hemp stops growing. As soon as the days in spring get longer and the hours of sunshine increase, gradually increase the temperature and the watering.

Diseases and pests

Sansevieria are very robust plants that only become ill due to major care mistakes. Pest infestation, on the other hand, is rare, but can occur. Mealybugs and spider mites in particular occur occasionally, although you should not shower off affected plants if possible.

  • brown discolored / soft leaves: root rot due to waterlogging, but also too low temperatures
  • yellow discolored / slack leaves: overwatering or overfertilization
  • brown spots on the leaves: dryness
  • moist, soft spots on the leaves: fungal attack

If the bow hemp is infected by a fungus and its leaves become soft as a result, the plant can usually no longer be saved. However, you can cut off the tips of the leaves and use them as cuttings for new plants.


As a gift, the bow hemp has a rather bad reputation in this country, which is not least due to its nickname “mother-in-law's tongue”. In fact, it is an easy-care plant, which on top of that improves the air in the room and is therefore a great souvenir. In this case, point out the numerous advantages of the houseplant and, in particular, mention to your mother-in-law that it is by no means a nasty allusion.

Species and varieties

The species Sansevieria trifasciata has been cultivated as a houseplant for many decades; there are numerous ornamental forms of it in different heights, types of growth and leaf colors. In addition to the green-leafy forms, the subspecies laurentii is particularly popular, with leaves with wide, light yellow borders. This species can become quite tall with heights of more than one meter, while the varieties of the subspecies Sansevieria trifasciata hahnii remain comparatively small with an average height of up to 20 centimeters. Hahnii shapes also come in very different colors.

On the other hand, Sansevieria cylindrica is still relatively new as a houseplant, with its round, columnar, upright leaves. This cultivated form also remains quite compact and is therefore ideal for the window sill at home. The leaves of this species are often offered in braided form, which, however, does not correspond to the natural habit. There are also some interesting ornamental forms of the rare Sansevieria kirkii, which has very narrow and rather short leaves.

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