Unsuspected beauty in snake plant flowers

It is hard to believe that anyone has not at some time had snake plants (Sansevieria) in their family households. The ability of this interesting but strange plant to survive almost any treatment made it popular around the world as a house plant.
Unfortunately in warmer areas such as Florida they ended up planted outside and have caused considerable problems since they are highly invasive, especially in shaded forest locations where native plants are crowded out by the snake plant. Removing them is problematic since the roots break into small pieces and generate many new plants.
I have fought a running battle with snake plants in our Florida yard since a former owner got them started. So I always considered them a big pest with no redeeming qualities. However I have now recognized that the regular Winter-time blooms of these plants are actually quite interesting from an ecological perspective (see photo). A spike of white tubular flowers emits a powerful fragrance and is actually quite beautiful, if you can get past the bad-boy image of this species. I am always interested in predicting what might pollinate specific flowers, based on flower color, shape and smell. I found out that this plant originated most likely from Western Africa but have not yet found out what pollinates it in its native habitat. However the white tubular flowers with a strong odor indicate pollination by a night-flying moth with a long tongue, possibly a sphinx/hawk moth whose larvae are often called horn worms.
I did find one article that determined that the primary sugar in the nectar of the common snake plant is sucrose, and predicted that this in conjunction with the flower structure would attract mainly sphinx moths. Note also that the authors found extra-floral sources of nectar and surmised these might satisfy creatures such as ants that might otherwise steal the flower nectar and limit the plant’s ability to reproduce.
So look around you with a renewed interest in plants and animals that you might have dismissed as unworthy of notice, and you may find unsuspected beauty and interest among the “bad boys” of the natural world.
Bill DunsonEnglewood,
FL & Galax, VA

2 thoughts on “Unsuspected beauty in snake plant flowers

  1. Tree hugging says:

    Another telling feature of many Plants that are pollinated by moths is that they are lacking in color and most fragrant at night.

    A plant geneticist friend of mine explained some of the biochemistry behind this. It turns out that fragrance and flower color are a modification of chlorophyll, thus you can have color or fragrance but very rarely do you have both. Thus plants have to be very selective about the strategy they use to attract pollinators.

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