Sansevieria liberica (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Sansevieria liberica Gérôme & Labroy

Protologue: Bull. Mus. natl. Hist. nat., Paris 9: 170, 173 (1903).
Family: Dracaenaceae (APG: Asparagaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 80

Vernacular names

  • Bowstring hemp, leopard lily (En).
  • Sansévière, chanvre d’Afrique, lis léopard, herbe à perruque (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Sansevieria liberica is distributed from Sierra Leone to Nigeria and in the Central African Republic.


Sansevieria liberica has been cultivated in Nigeria for its leaf fibres, that were used for making ropes, bowstrings and fishing-lines. In Ghana the fibres were made into cloth using a handloom. Fibres are still used for threading valuable and sacred ornaments and to make sponges.

In traditional medicine juice pressed from the leaves or a decoction of the leaves is drunk for the treatment of gonorrhoea, earache and toothache. Leaf sap is applied to ulcers, sores and topically in case of earache and toothache. Fermented rhizomes are eaten to cure malaria. A root decoction is used as a remedy for convulsions. In Ghana the roots are used as an abortifacient and administered during labour. As a fetish plant it is grown on graves, at shrines and in compounds.

Sansevieria liberica is widely grown as an ornamental.


In a test with leaf and rhizome extracts no molluscicidal activity was found. The leaves have analgesic properties.

Adulterations and substitutes

Like all natural fibres, Sansevieria fibres face strong competition from synthetic products, such as polypropylene and nylon.


Perennial, rhizomatous herb, without stem; rhizome rounded, subterranean, c. 19 mm in diameter, branched. Leaves 1–6; stipules absent; petiole absent; blade oblanceolate, 45–105 cm × 5–12.5 cm, erect to suberect, spreading with age, dark green usually with paler indistinct, transverse bands, apex narrowed, ending in a flexible, acute tip 2–12 mm long, green turning white, margin cartilaginous, pale reddish brown. Inflorescence a spike-like raceme, 60–80 cm long, laxly flowered; peduncle with persistent membranous bracts, lower bracts c. 4 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 3-merous; pedicel c. 5 mm long; perianth tubular, 5–7 cm long, lobes 6, white; stamens 6, much exserted; ovary superior, 3-celled, style filiform and long, stigma capitate. Fruit a berry c. 10 mm in diameter, red, 1–3-seeded.

Other botanical information

Sansevieria has been variously included in the Amaryllidaceae, the Liliaceae and the Agavaceae but is nowadays usually placed in the Dracaenaceae. The genus numbers c. 60 species but in view of widespread confusion a thorough revision of the genus is badly needed.

Several other West and Central African Sansevieria species are used for their fibre. Sansevieria senegambica Baker is distributed from Senegal to Côte d’Ivoire. It resembles Sansevieria liberica and has been confused with it, but it has smaller leaves and flowers and the leaves are not distinctly banded. It has been cultivated in West Africa for its fibres. The fibre needs special treatment which has restricted its commercial use. Locally the fibre is used for fishing nets, bowstrings and to make hair extensions. Medicinal use of Sansevieria senegambica is similar to that of Sansevieria liberica. Sansevieria longiflora Sims is distributed in Equatorial Guinea, DR Congo, Angola and Namibia. It is claimed to be cultivated for its fibres in Ethiopia, Jamaica, Trinidad and the southern United States, and its English name is ‘Florida bowstring hemp’. In Ethiopia the species has not been recorded and for the Caribbean and in the United States a mistaken identity is probable as well.

Growth and development

Sansevieria species are slow growing and use the Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) pathway. CAM plants are able to fix CO2 at night and to photosynthesize with closed stomata during the day, thus minimizing water loss. In West Africa Sansevieria liberica flowers from March till June.


Sansevieria liberica is usually found in shaded locations in savanna and forest. Minimum annual rainfall requirements of Sansevieria spp. are c. 250 mm. For commercial production a warm, moist climate and well-drained, somewhat calcareous soils are recommended. Shading is sometimes recommended, but its favourable effect may be due more to its influence on soil moisture and nutrient status than to a direct effect on plants.

Propagation and planting

Propagation of most Sansevieria spp. is easily done by division, suckers, leaf cuttings, seed or in-vitro culture. Sansevieria liberica is an exception as using leaf cuttings appears unsuccessful.


Best yields and quality of fibres are obtained by respecting a harvest interval that is long enough to not reduce the leaf-length. A first harvest could take place at 2.5–3.5 years after planting and consecutive harvests at 2 year intervals. At a high growth rate the harvest interval can be shorter.

Genetic resources

A number of species of Sansevieria is stored in germplasm collections notably in those of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, United Kingdom and the National Genebank in Muguga, Kenya. The conservation status of Sansevieria liberica is not problematic since its utilisation is limited.


In the United States the potential of various Sansevieria spp. was examined for replacing sisal (Agave sisalana Perrine) and abaca (Musa textilis Née) as a source of marine fibre. Sansevieria trifasciata Prain was considered the most suitable species, because of its leaf length, fibre content and tolerance to cold. Hybrids with Sansevieria liberica have been produced to benefit from the higher fibre content of the latter. These hybrids proved to be sterile, could be easily propagated with leaf cuttings but leaves are short which reduced the practical value for fibre production.


The fibres of Sansevieria liberica will remain important for local usage but even if demand for natural fibres increases it is probable that other more productive species will be used to fill in the gaps. Opportunities for breeding and selection of high-yielding hybrids are large as a large gene pool is present in the genus.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
  • Hepper, F.N., 1968. Agavaceae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 3, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 154–159.
  • Kirby, R.H., 1963. Vegetable fibres: botany, cultivation, and utilization. Leonard Hill, London, United Kingdom & Interscience Publishers, New York, United States. 464 pp.
  • Newton, L.E., 2001. Sansevieria. In: Eggli, U. (Editor). Illustrated handbook of succulent plants: Monocotyledons. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany. pp. 261–272.
  • Praptosuwiryo, T.N., 2003. Sansevieria Thunb. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 7. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 217–221.

Other references

  • Adewunmi, C.O. & Sofowora, E.A., 1980. Preliminary screening of some plant extracts for molluscicidal activity. Planta Medica 39: 57–65.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
  • Baker, N.E., 1915. Sansevieria: a monograph of all the known species. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information Kew 1915(5): 185–261.
  • De Wildeman, E., 1903–1905. Notices sur des plantes utiles ou interessantes de la flore du Congo. Volume 1. Imprimerie Veuve Monnom, Brussels, Belgium. 662 pp.
  • Hanelt, P. & Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Editors), 2001. Mansfeld’s encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops (except ornamentals). 1st English edition. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 3645 pp.
  • Hermans, M., Akoègninou, A. & van der Maesen, J., 2004. Medicinal plants used to treat malaria in southern Benin. Economic Botany 58 (supplement): S239–S252.
  • Hodgkin, T., Rana, R., Tuxill, J., Balma, D., Subedi, I., Mar, I., Karamura, D., Valdivia, R., Collado, L., Latournerie, L., Sadiki, M., Sawadogo, M., Brown, A.D.H. & Jarvis, D.I., 2007. Seed systems and crop genetic diversity in agroecosystems. In: Jarvis, D.I., Padoch, C. & Cooper, H.D. (Editors) Managing biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems. Columbia University Press, New York, United States. pp. 77–116.
  • Ikewuchi, C.C., 2010. Effect of aqueous extract of Sansevieria senegambica Baker on plasma chemistry, lipid profile and atherogenic indices of alloxan treated rats: implications for the management of cardiovascular complications in diabetes mellitus. Pacific Journal of Science and Technology 11(2): 524–531.
  • Menzel, M.Y. & Pate, J.B., 1960. Chromosomes and crossing behavior of some species of Sansevieria. American Journal of Botany 47(3): 230–238.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
  • Wilson, F.D., Joyner, J.F. & Fishler, D.W., 1969. Fiber yields in Sansevieria interspecific hybrids. Economic Botany 23(1): 148–155.

Sources of illustration

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.


  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2011. Sansevieria liberica Gérôme & Labroy. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 6 March 2020.