Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Dig This
Friday, October 13, 2000

By Stephanie Kendrick

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Plant propagator Robin Sunio shows off some of
Koko Crater's vast collection of Sansevieria. In the
foreground are the more traditional, tongue-like
specimens. Behind him grows a pencil-thin variety.

it’s unkillable

So a husband and wife go car shopping, and the salesman asks the husband if he wants a car with an airbag. He says, "No thanks. I already have a mother-in-law."

A terrible joke, I know. Not to mention undeserved, if my experience is any indication. But there you have it. For some completely mysterious reason, mothers-in-law have a reputation on the comedy circuit for being sharp tongued.

That attribute explains the nickname often given to the succulent Sansevieria.

"It's long and it's very sharp tipped," pointed out Michael Miyashiro by way of explaining how the plant wound up being called mother-in-law's tongue.

Miyashiro, president of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Hawaii and owner of Rainforest florist in Ward Warehouse, is organizing a Sansevieria exhibit for Oct. 21, three short days before national Mother-in-Law's Day Oct. 24.

Oahu's Koko Crater may have the most complete collection of this intriguing plant outside of its native Africa, said Miyashiro.

Sansevieria was first planted in the Koko Crater Botanical Garden in the 1960s, according to Nathan Wong, recreation specialist at Honolulu Botanical Gardens and a member of the Cactus and Succulent Society.

In the 1980s, Ed and Alva Eby retired to Waianae from San Jose after a career in the nursery business. They wound up going back to work and in the process inventoried and replenished the Koko Crater Sansevieria collection.

Since the Ebys returned to the mainland in 1995, Cactus and Succulent Society member Angel Ramos has maintained the collection.

Ramos grows 125 different Sansevieria at his home and blames Ed Eby for getting him hooked on the plant.

"It is very easy to grow, almost needs no care," said Ramos. "It grows in just about any medium.

"We used to say this plant, it doesn't know how to die."

Ramos has even propagated the plant upside-down, just to see if it could be done. Sure enough, the plant grew out normally.

"It's such an interesting plant. It comes in all different leaf shapes and sizes from giants to miniature dwarfs," said Wong.

The largest plants in Ramos' collection are more than 5 feet tall, though he's seen photographs of 9-foot plants, said Ramos. His smallest plant is 2 inches, including the pot. "Some people say 'I have no room, I live in an apartment,' but you could almost put it in a pocket," he said.

Mother-in-law's Tongue
Plant Show and Sale

Bullet When: Oct. 21, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bullet Where: Ward Warehouse Amphitheater
Bullet Cost: Free
Bullet Call: 591-9999 or visit

Sansevieria has a lot to recommend it to apartment dwellers. Not only does it thrive in virtually any growing condition, but it cleans the air.

A two-year study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors

of America on the pollution-absorbing potential of indoor plants, named Sansevieria one of the 10 most effective in removing formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air.

It's also reputed to absorb cooking odors.

The plant is popular in East Coast Italian restaurants, said Miyashiro, in the belief that it removes the smell of garlic and anchovies.

Chinese restaurants favor the plant for a different reason.

"There is an old Chinese saying that the Sansevieria has bestowed the virtues of the eight Gods," said Miyashiro. "The virtues are prosperity, good health, beauty, intelligence, arts, poetry, strength and long life."

The presence of the plant, which predates "good luck bamboo," according to Miyashiro, is supposed to tell customers they will have good luck if they eat there.

In other countries, Sansevieria is called snake plant and is used as a remedy for bites, he said.

And scientists from Japan and elsewhere are studying the plant for its medicinal properties.

Sansevieria flowers range from beige to yellow and the plant will bloom indoors, said Miyashiro. "Their flowers are night fragrant."

All that, and it's easy to grow.

"This is like the last resort to grow before you decide on giving up on plants," said Miyashiro. "If you cannot raise these you should not have anything else living to deal with the rest of your life."

The show will feature a number of "collector" species and many plants in flower, according to Miyashiro.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Stephanie Kendrick's gardening column runs Fridays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802
or email

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin