Whale Fin Snake Plant: The Must-Have Plant of the Year

Whale Fin Snake Plant, or Mason’s Congo Snake Plant (Dracaena masoniana, syn. Sansevieria masoniana) is a rare plant compared to its Snake Plant cousin (Dracaena trifasciata, syn. Sansevieria trifasciata). Instead of narrow spires, its huge upright leaves are flat, wide, and paddle-shaped and can grow 3 to 4 feet high and up to a foot across!

The leaves of the Whale Fin species are mottled, with a dark and light green zigzag pattern. The variegated form, with vertical yellow stripes against the dark green, is much rarer and harder to find. They are both unusual-looking and great to add to your plant collection.

According to the famous 1989 NASA indoor plant study ¹, Snake Plant species reduce benzene and formaldehyde in the air. The more surface area of the leaves, the better the plant is at reducing the toxins in the air, and Whale Fin has a lot of surface area!

This remarkable plant is native to a hot, dry, partially sunny environment in West Africa and was first collected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It needs plant care conditions similar to those to grow well, so let’s look at what it needs to stay healthy.

snake plant whale fin

Quick Guide: Whale Fin Sansevieria Care

CategoryWhale Fin Snake Plant Information
Botanical / Scientific NameDracaena masoniana (syn. Sansevieria masoniana)
Common NameWhale Fin Snake Plant, Mason’s Congo Snake Plant
OriginWest Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
LightModerate to bright indirect light, 5-6 hours of direct sun daily
Temperature65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C)
Humidity5 to 25% (tolerates household humidity levels)
SoilWell-draining soil mix with perlite, coarse sand, or pumice
WateringWater only when soil is completely or almost dry
FertilizerLow-nitrogen succulent fertilizer once a year (optional)
PottingUse terracotta pot with drainage holes, heavy and wide
RepottingEvery one or two years, one pot size up
PestsAphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale, fungus gnats
DiseasesRoot rot (caused by overwatering and poor soil drainage)
ToxicityToxic to humans and pets
PropagationLeaf cuttings or division
Display IdeasPlant stands, decorative pots, complementary plants

Plant Benefits

Whale Fin Snake Plants offer numerous benefits, including air purification by removing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene. They also release oxygen at night, promoting better sleep. In addition, these low-maintenance, drought-tolerant succulents thrive in various conditions, making them ideal for indoor spaces.

Whale Fin Snake Plant Care Guide

Whale Fin Sansevieria

These conditions for growth are almost the same as for its Sansevieria trifasciata cousin.

Light

When it come to snake plant light needs, Whale fin does best with a steady diet of moderate to bright indirect light and can benefit from 5-6 hours of direct sun daily. Keep your plant close to the window with an east- or west-facing exposure. 

Direct sunlight all day from a south-facing window might be too much for your plant, so set it back from the window or use a sheer curtain to filter the bright light.

Snake Plants, in general, are known to tolerate low light. They will live, but they will be pale and leggy and won’t thrive, so providing them with more light through the windows is much better.

If you give your houseplants a vacation outdoors in the summer, set your Whale Fin in a protected spot in the bright or dappled shade since direct summer sunlight is too harsh and will burn the leaves.

Temperature

Whale Fins love the warmth and will do fine in average household temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F, but their growth will slow down below 60 degrees. So if your plant is outside for the summer, make sure that you bring it in when the temperature is predicted to drop below 50 degrees F.

Humidity

Your Whale Fin plant is native to areas with very low humidity, about 5 to 25%, but they will do just fine in ambient household humidity levels, which are about 30 to 40%, and lower in the winter when the heat is on.

Soil and Pot

Whale Fin propagation

All Snake Plant varieties like well-draining soil with lots of air spaces. Commercial potting mixes by themselves are often too dense and will compact down with time. So, combine with one part of perlite, coarse sand, or pumice. This excellent snake plant soil mixture will allow water to drain effectively and provide enough air spaces around the roots so that they can absorb oxygen and stay healthy.

The type of pot you use for your Whale Fin goes hand-in-hand with the soil mix. Terracotta is the best material since it dries out quicker than ceramic, plastic, or composite, decreasing the risk of too much soil moisture.

But whatever the type of pot you use, make sure that it has at least one drainage hole. And since masoniana snake plants are shallow-rooted and top-heavy, it’s best to keep them in a heavy, wide pot, about as wide as the leaf, to prevent them from falling over.

Whale Fins grow slowly, so you won’t need to repot more than once every one or two years. Follow the normal guidelines for repotting snake plants. Only go one pot size up and ensure the pot is steady enough to handle your large plant.

Water

The Whale Fin is a semi-succulent with drought tolerance that stores water in its leaves, so it doesn’t require frequent watering. However, it’s a good practice to only water a snake plant when the soil is entirely or almost completely dry.

Don’t water on a schedule. It’s best to test the soil to see how dry it is before you water it. You can test it with your finger or stick a pencil or chopstick down almost to the bottom of the soil. 

If it comes out dry, it’s time to water, but if it’s wet, you’ll need to wait longer before watering. A moisture meter can also help you gauge how wet or dry the soil is.

During the growing season in spring and summer, when it is getting a lot of light, it will need water about every 10 days to 2 weeks. However, it won’t need watering more than every 3 to 4 weeks during the winter when it’s cooler, and the light is lower.

Water thoroughly, allowing it to run through the soil and out the drainage hole. Let it drain completely, then empty any remaining water from the dish or tray underneath.

If your plant gets the right amount of water, its leaves should be solid, flat, and upright. If they begin to curl, it’s a sign of underwatering, and you’ll have to supply more moisture. 

On the other hand, too much water with minimal drainage can cause the roots to decay and the leaves to turn yellow, so giving your beautiful plant the right amount of water is essential.

Fertilizer

If you repot your plant once every one or two years, the nutrition in the potting soil will be enough. But if you want to give it an extra boost, feed it with a low-nitrogen succulent fertilizer once a year in the spring. 

Too much fertilizer can burn the roots, so dilute it to half-strength if it’s liquid and mix it with the soil.

Pruning

Your Whale Fin should never need pruning except for cutting off dead or diseased tissue.

Pests and Diseases

With good care, Whale Fin Snake Plants are remarkably pest- and disease-resistant. But sometimes, when growing conditions aren’t right, your plant may develop problems with its leaves, roots, or soil.

Pests

The most frequently seen pests on Whale Fins are aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale, and fungus gnats.

Aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites can be controlled by hosing the plant with water to knock as many pests off as possible. Then spray it with insecticidal soap and/or Neem oil or wipe the leaves down with rubbing alcohol and water to kill any remaining ones.

Scale are small, oval, hard-shelled insects that are hard to knock off and that won’t be killed by a spray. The best way to control these beasties is to wipe them off with rubbing alcohol and water or alcohol wipes.

Fungus gnats are another thing altogether. Their eggs are often already in the potting mix used for indoor plants and will remain dormant in well-draining soil with a good watering regimen.

But if you happen to overwater your plant, the eggs may hatch into larvae that feed on the organic matter in the soil and on your plant’s roots. They emerge from the soil at maturity as small, black flies that you’ll see flying around when you knock against the pot. These adults lay eggs back in the soil, and the cycle starts again.

You’ll have to take a two-pronged approach to eliminate the fungus gnats – in and above the soil. 

An excellent way to kill the eggs and larvae is to water the soil thoroughly with a solution of four parts water to one part 3% hydrogen peroxide. It will bring oxygen to the roots and eliminate the gnats below the soil.

Then you can add a layer of sand on top of the soil to keep any adults from emerging and also use sticky traps to catch any that have escaped.

Diseases

If the leaves are yellowing and beginning to have some mushy tissue, you may have a case of root rot, a fungal disease caused by overwatering and poor soil drainage.

When water builds up and cannot drain through the soil, it fills the air pockets, and the roots can’t “breathe” or absorb oxygen. This creates a low oxygen (anaerobic) condition that is a perfect breeding place for fungi to grow.

To remedy this situation, turn the pot on its side and gently remove the root ball. Knock off the soil to get a good look at the roots. Healthy ones should be white and firm, but those affected with root rot will be black, mushy, and smell bad.

Cut any infected roots off and wash the healthy ones with a solution of three parts 3% hydrogen peroxide to one part water or a fungicide like Neem oil to kill any remaining fungal infection. Then replant your Whale Fin in a clean pot with fresh soil.

Common Issues & Troubleshooting 

Whale Fin yellow leaf

Caring for a Whale Fin Snake Plant can sometimes present challenges, but with a little knowledge, you can easily address and resolve most issues. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

Leaf Discoloration

Yellowing and/or browning leaves can be a sign of overwatering or poor soil drainage. Ensure the soil is well-draining and avoid watering too frequently. If the problem persists, consider repotting your plant in fresh soil and a pot with proper drainage holes.

Leaf Curling

If your Whale Fin Snake Plant’s leaves begin to curl, it may be a sign of underwatering or insufficient light. Check the soil moisture and ensure your plant receives enough bright, indirect light. Adjust your watering routine or relocate the plant to a sunnier spot if necessary.

Propagate Whale Fin Sansevieria Plant

Whale Fin propagation in water

Whale Fin Snake Plants can be propagated with leaf cuttings or by division.

Leaf cuttings

Leaf cuttings can be propagated in either water or soil.

Cut a leaf into several pieces for water propagation and set them in a bowl or jar right-side up in bright, indirect light. 

Change the water every four or five days to keep bacteria and algae from growing. And then, when the roots are 2” to 3” long, plant them in a fresh potting mix and only water when the soil is dry or almost dry.

For soil propagation, cut leaf sections and set them in well-draining potting soil right-side up in bright, indirect light. 

As an option, you can dip the bottom end of the cutting in rooting hormone before you place it in the soil. It will take a number of months before the cutting will develop roots.

Note: Always orient your cuttings right-side up in the water or soil. They will not develop roots if they are upside-down.

Division

Division is the easiest way to propagate your Whale Fin. If you have more than one leaf growing in your pot or a pup that you want to separate, brush away the soil to gently expose the rhizomes and cut or break them to separate the plants. 

Allow them to callus over in the air for a couple of days, then plant them in separate pots in fresh potting mix. Only water when the soil is dry or almost dry.

Another way to propagate by division is to cut or break off a separate piece of rhizome that is not attached to a leaf. 

Allow it to callus over for a few days, then put it in well-draining soil in a small, shallow pot in bright, indirect light. Water it whenever the top of the soil is dry until it develops roots. Then plant it in a larger pot in well-draining soil.

Also, check out this guide for more information on propagating snake plants.

Toxicity

All Snake Plants are toxic to humans and pets such as cats and dogs, and according to the ASPCA ², can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. So keep your family safe by setting your Whale Fin out of the reach of little hands and paws.

Display & Decoration 

The impressive size and unique appearance of the Snake plant ‘Whale Fin’ make it a stunning addition to any indoor space. Here are some ideas for displaying and decorating with your plant:

Plant Stands

Elevate your Whale Fin Snake Plant with a stylish plant stand, which can add height and create a focal point in your room. Choose a stand that complements your interior decor and is sturdy enough to support the plant’s weight.

Decorative Pots

Showcase your Whale Fin Snake Plant in a beautiful pot that complements its striking foliage. Choose a pot with drainage holes to ensure proper soil moisture, and consider using a pot made of terracotta or another breathable material to promote healthy root growth.

Complementary Plants

Pair your Whale Fin Snake Plant with other plants with similar care requirements, such as snake plants, ZZ plants, or succulents. This will create an attractive and cohesive display while simplifying your plant care routine.

FAQ

Whale fin vs snake plant: What is the difference?

Whale fin and snake plants are both low-maintenance, air-purifying houseplants. The whale fin (Sansevieria masoniana) has a single leaf, while snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) have tall, slender leaves with distinct patterns. Both thrive in low-light conditions and require minimal watering.

Are whale tail snake plants succulents?

Yes, they are indeed succulents. They store water in their thick leaves, allowing them to tolerate drought and thrive in low-light conditions. This characteristic makes them easy-to-care-for, resilient houseplants perfect for beginners.

Is whale fin snake plant rare?

Yes, they are considered relatively rare compared to other Sansevieria varieties. Their distinctive wide, paddle-like leaves and slow growth rate make them a unique and sought-after addition to plant collections, contributing to their rarity in the market.

Are there variegated whale fin plants?

Variegated Whale Fin Snake Plants (Sansevieria Masoniana f. Variegatas) are available. These rare cultivars display striking yellow or white streaks along the leaf margins, adding visual interest to a unique plant. However, due to their rarity, they may be harder to find and often command higher prices.

References

1: A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement (PDF) https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/19930072988/downloads/19930072988.pdf

2: Snake Plant. (n.d.). ASPCA. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/snake-plant

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.