Whale fin sansevieria is also known as sansevieria masoniana, Mason’s Snake Plant, Congo Snake Plant, and Whale Fin Plant.
Many varieties of sansevieria are known as snake plants because of the succulent-like nature of their leaves and the slippery sap they excrete when cut.
This spectacular species grows massive leaves with an intense mottling and leathery texture, all of which are very reminiscent of a whale fin.
What Is a Whale Fin Sansevieria?
The whale fin sansevieria species is a succulent-like plant that comes from Central Africa, specifically Congo. In the natural environment, the erect leaves of this plant can become astoundingly tall. Wild specimens are documented with leaves four feet in height and nearly a foot wide. It is found growing in the dappled shade beneath trees and occasionally in bright, direct sun.
Most gardeners will purchase these plants online or from a nursery with one or two medium-size leaves. You will want to know what the proper way to care for a whale tail sansevieria is, how to encourage growth, when to propagate the plant, and how to address common pests and diseases.
This guide shows you everything you will need to know to have success growing whale fin sansevieria.
Whale Fin Sansevieria Care Instructions
This variety of sansevieria doesn’t need much care. In fact, it almost enjoys being neglected, but you have to give it the perfect conditions in order for the plant to survive. Once your plant is established in its pot, you’ll have few problems keeping it alive, even if you forget to water it.
This guide will give you all of the important information you will need for growing the sansevieria whale fin successfully. The key thing to always remember about this plant is that it grows very slowly.
There is no way to force the plant to grow faster than it will, and efforts to do so usually end up killing the plant. This is a type of houseplant that you will want to set in place and leave alone.
One of the biggest myths about these interesting plants is that they are shade-loving. These plants will tolerate shade better than many other plants, but won’t grow in dim conditions. Giving these plants the proper type and amount of light is the only way to encourage stable growth.
Almost any window that gets good sunlight will work. Sunlight in South-facing windows may be a little too strong, but east and west are usually ideal. Get this plant as close to the window as you can so that it will absorb as much light as possible. The sansevieria whale fin plant needs bright, indirect light and will tolerate the direct sun better than many similar plants.
You can encourage these plants to grow well by moving them outside in warm months, but keep in mind that they are equatorial plants that don’t tolerate large changes in temperature. Warm, bright, but indirect light will encourage the whale fin to grow larger while also stimulating rhizome growth.
They are not tolerant of cool temperatures. Any time the temperature is below 55 degrees, you will need to move the plant indoors to prevent damage. These plants cannot tolerate even a hint of frost and will likely die if you try to leave them outside in cool temperatures.
These plants can’t sit in water, or even in damp soil for any period of time. One of the classic mistakes that new owners of sansevieria whale fin plants make when they get their plant is to water it too much in the hope of helping roots grow. It is understandable that you will want it to develop better roots, but watering the plant excessively will only result in rot or death.
The correct way to water a healthy plant is to wait between waterings until the potting mixture is completely dry or nearly all the way dry. Use your finger to feel the soil as deep as you can. If the soil is damp at all, you may be able to wait for water. It is critical that you do not overwater sansevieria plants because they will not survive.
The best way to tell if the plant needs water is to pay attention to the surface of the leaves. When the plant is ready for water, the skin will pucker a little. This is a perfect indication the plant is ready. These succulent-like plants store water in their leaves rather than absorb water through roots.
When you water your sansevieria plant, slowly run water across the entire surface of the pot until water comes from the drainage holes freely. Do not leave the pot sitting in water. If you are using a cachepot to keep your planting, ensure that it doesn’t have standing water in it.
We can’t stress how critical it is to the survival of these plants that they not get too much water.
The best mixture for potting sansevieria plants is a two-part mix of high-quality succulent & cactus mix with one part pumice or perlite. Pumice is typically preferred over pumice because it can enhance root development better, but there is no consistent difference between the two media types.
The soil types you should avoid include anything with clay, any soil with organic matter in it, or anything that holds and retains water. The goal with these plants is to have a soil mixture that quickly drains and doesn’t hold water for any period of time. It may seem odd to plant this way, but trust us, this plant doesn’t like fussy soil mixtures.
If you receive a potted sansevieria plant, one of the very first things you should do is replace the soil with an appropriate potting mixture for these plants. All types of soil, be it potting, garden or topsoil hold too much water for these plants. Many of these types of soil also have added fertilizers and organic nutrients that are too strong for the snake plant.
You should brush off all of the soil from your plant, noting the size of the roots. These are very slow-growing plants that do not develop large root balls. This can make them quite unstable in their pot, so select a large, heavy pot that won’t tip over as the plant grows. Keep in mind that the potting mix won’t hold much water, so you won’t have the added weight for stability.
It is best not to fertilize these plants. The main issue is that fertilizers tend to encourage the growth of the whale fin leaf, but not the roots. Pretty soon, the top is too heavy and won’t stand up in the soil. At this point, there isn’t much hope for the plant and you will need to propagate a leaf cutting in the hope of saving the life of the plant.
If you choose to use a fertilizer, a mix for succulents or cactus is appropriate. Dilute it to one-quarter strength and only use it when you water your plant. Do not let fertilizer sit on the roots of the plant because they can’t uptake the nutrients fast enough and the roots will burn. In most cases, you are better off watering your plant correctly and providing the perfect light conditions rather than trying to force growth through the use of fertilizer.
While some plants will need repotting every year or more, these curiously slow-growing plants can go several years without repotting. In fact, some gardeners start their plants against the side of a large pot and the plants won’t need repotting for many years.
Choosing the right pot for your plant is important and is a critical step right off the bat. You will need a large pot that is heavy and stable on its own. Choose a pot that is at least as deep as it is wide to encourage root development. While these plants aren’t known for deep-running roots, they can benefit from more vertical space than other plants. Terra cotta, ceramic, and plastic pots make good choices for potting a sansevieria plant.
When you put your plant in a pot, you should bury it a little deeper than with most plants. Depending on the overall size of the leaves, you should aim to have one or two inches of the plant below the surface of the potting mix. Doing so will help stabilize the top-heavy leaves. You can use stakes to help support the leaves, but be careful of scraping the surface which will lead to unsightly scars.
Proper Handling Tips
One of the things that happens a lot with these plants is they get handled too roughly. The large, beautiful leaves are quite delicate and will fold and crack easily. If you are handling your plant, make sure the leaves are well-supported before you do anything. Small injuries can leave ugly scars that also inhibit the growth of the plant.
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) advises that all members of the sansevieria species are toxic to animals and children when ingested, so don’t let your family members chew on them.
Propagation Techniques That Work
1. Rhizome Division
This is the best, fastest, and safest way to propagate these plants. It requires that you have a mature plant with fully grown rhizomes and roots. You will know that it is time to propagate when a small nub rises from the potting mix near the base of the plant. This is a pup, and you will remove it to grow a new plant.
You will need to remove at least enough soil to expose the connecting rhizome. It is usually a good idea to repot both the mother and the pup when propagating. Using a sharp knife that is sterile, cut the pup from the mother keeping as much of the rhizome with the pup as possible.
Place the cutting in a cool, dry place for at least 24 hours. The area where you made the cut will dry up. Choose a small pot around 3 inches in diameter and fill it with the correct potting mixture. Once the cut end of the pup is dry, place it in the dry soil. Water very lightly and let the soil dry completely between waterings. It can take several months for roots to appear and more than a year may pass before repotting the plant into a larger pot is necessary.
2. Water Method
If you have a mature plant with at least three leaves, you can use the water method to propagate your plant. In this method, simply use a sharp, sterile knife to cut a leaf from the plant. You will make the cut nearly at the base of the leaf. Try to make one, smooth cut all the way through to prevent damaging the leaf.
Let the cut leaf dry in a cool, dark place for 24 hours or until the cut has dried. Remember that the sap is toxic, so avoid getting it on your hands. Once the cut has dried, suspend the leaf in a glass of water. A neat trick is to use a cocktail skewer and a small clip to hold the leaf above the bottom of the glass. This encourages root growth and prevents damaging the delicate new roots when you move the leaf. Change the water weekly. Roots will take a long time to form, but once they do, it won’t be long before you can transplant them into a pot.
You can propagate these plants directly into the soil, but this is often unsuccessful. Make the same incision as you would make in the water method, allow the cut to dry, then simply place in proper potting mix for sansevieria plants.
Common Problems of Whale Fin Sansevieria
Many of the most common problems gardeners encounter with this plant are easy to fix. You will learn to identify signs of a problem with your snake plant and take action before it is too late. These plants are relatively hardy and don’t frequently have problems once they have the proper growing conditions.
Signs of a Problem
- Wilting: The cause of droopy, wilting leaves is usually too much water. These plants store water in their leaves, but when there is too much supply, they will continue to try to add water to the leaves. Eventually, the cell structure fails, causing the leaf to droop. If your plant is wilting, immediately start drying the soil. If the potting mix is soggy, wet, and heavy, throw it out and start with a fresh potting mix appropriate for the plant.
- Mushy Leaves and Stems: This is another result of too much water and infection. Root rot is a term that describes conditions where bacteria or fungus causing the plant to rot at the roots and stems. Sansevieria snake plants are particularly vulnerable to root rot, so it is critical that you avoid overwatering. Unfortunately, once rot begins, the chance of your plant surviving are slim. If the rot hasn’t extended to leaves, it may be a good choice to remove the rot and propagate the cuttings.
- Yellowing Leaves: You are going to see a pattern here; again, the yellowing of leaves is most often from overwatering the plant. You will need to ensure the potting mix drains completely and wait until it is dry to water again.
- Dull Green Leaves: The leaves of your plant should be bright and shiny. If they look grey or dull, particularly in the green portion, there are a couple of probable causes. Dullness combined with wrinkled or shriveled leaves indicates not enough water. Dullness, when watering is correct, indicates the plant needs more light. Move it closer to a window. If the plant hasn’t been watered in a good, long while, you should begin adding water slowly over a period of a few days or a week. Too much water after a long drought can send the plant into shock, possibly killing it.
- Slow or No Growth: If your plant isn’t growing, you may need to take corrective action. These plants have a dormant stage and a growing stage. Most often, in the fall and winter, these plants will not grow very much if at all. In spring you should see some growth and noticeable growth by late summer. If your plant isn’t growing, it probably needs more light. Move it closer to the window or to a window that gets brighter, filtered light. These plants like light better than many people think they do.
- Black Dots, Webs, and Fuzz: If you are seeing marks on the leaves and little tufts of white fuzz, you have mealybugs. Black dots are most likely thrips or aphids. Webs indicate spider mites. These sap-sucking pests are common throughout the US and will happily set up shop on the leaves of your plant. They are fairly easy to treat with homemade remedies. You can mix a few drops of dish soap, a tablespoon of isopropyl alcohol, and water in a spray bottle. Using the finest mist possible, spray the top and bottom of the leaves. The dish soap and alcohol will dry the bugs out, killing them. You may have to reapply a few times to get all of the bugs. Use a clean, dry cloth to delicately wipe the leaves clean after the mist has set for a few minutes.
- Leaves Falling Over: It may look like a disaster, but if your leaves fall over, you can easily fix the problem. Usually, roots and rhizomes grow horizontally to provide a stiff and stable hold for the top-heavy leaves. If the rhizomes don’t form as the plant grows, it will fall over. All you will need to do is make sure the potting mix you are using is correct for the plant. Put the plant back in the pot, making sure to bring the potting mix level a few inches up the leaves. This will help keep the plant stable in the pot. Don’t fertilize these plants because it can cause the fin to grow, but not the roots.
- The whale fin sansevieria is a neat and uncommon houseplant that is easy to care for.
- The plant is known for its large leaves that are firm, erect, and mottled green and grey.
- This plant needs infrequent watering and a chance to dry in order to grow.
- While it will tolerate lower light than many similar plants, this species thrives in bright indirect light. It cannot tolerate cool temperatures.
- A potting mix should be made for these plants that don’t include soil, water-retaining elements, or organic nutrients.
- Repotting is seldom needed because these plants grow slowly.
- Propagation is best done through rhizome division, however, leaf cuttings can work.
- Almost all of the problems with this plant come from too much water.
The whale fin sansevieria makes a great houseplant where the minimalist leaves stand apart from other, showy plants. Where you may really appreciate this plant is in your sunny home office or even your work office. It grows vertically, so it doesn’t take up much space.
Like all sansevieria plants, the whale fin will actually clean the air of pollutants, bringing ambiance and health to your home or office.
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