The whale fin snake plant sometimes looks more like someone cut a leaf and shoved it into some soil. And while you can propagate it by similar means, it is a normal plant with roots and a stem and not just a leaf. It also happens to be easy to grow for beginner plant owners.
Whale fin plants grow into tall, paddle-shaped leaves from rhizomes. They require little attention and space, making them ideal for new or busy plant enthusiasts. Water after you feel no moisture in the first few inches, provide fast draining soil, medium light, a warm home, and they’ll thrive.
In this guide, you’ll learn about its heritage, appearance, care, likely problems and solutions, and varieties.
|Common Name||Whale fin plant, Whale tail plant, Whale fin snake plant, Whale fin sansevieria, Mason’s Congo Sansevieria|
|Scientific Name||2017– present: Dracaena masoniana|
Pre-2017: Sansevieria masoniana
|Origin||The Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|Types||Dracaena masoniana var. Black|
Dracaena masoniana var. Mediopicta
Dracaena masoniana var. Variegata
|Growth||They grow very slowly. In optimum conditions, they can reach 4 ft (122 cm) tall and 1 ft (30 cm) wide.|
|Flowering||Rarely, when indoors. They grow greenish-white cylindrical clusters at night and have a citrus scent.|
|Ease of Care||They are perfect for beginners.|
|Soil||They need well-draining soil. For example, use 2 parts succulent mix, 1 part sand, perlite, or pumice.|
|Light Requirements||Indoor: They grow best with bright, indirect light. They also tolerate low and short periods of direct light.|
Outside: Keep them in partial sun.
|Watering Needs||Water them thoroughly until draining, then wait until fully dry again.|
Summer: Water approximately every 7 – 10 days.
Winter: Water approximately every 2–3 weeks.
|Temperature||They prefer 64–79° F (18–26° C) but still grow in temperatures above 59° F (15° C).|
|Humidity||They prefer 40–60% humidity, which is typical household humidity.|
|USDA Hardiness||Outside, they will grow in zones 9–11.|
|Potting||The pot size needs to be wider than the leaf as it doesn’t curl to fit. It also needs enough weight to prevent tipping as the leaf grows taller.|
|Fertilizer||Fertilize while watering with low nitrogen or cactus formula diluted to ¼ in summer.|
|Propagating||They can be propagated by division and leaf-cutting.|
|Care Problems||Overwatering: Wilt, yellowing leaf, brown spots, root rot.|
Other: Leaf collapse from poor nutrient balance.
|Pests||Aphids, Brown scales, Mealybugs, Thrips, Spider mites.|
|Toxicity||They have saponins, which cause gastric problems for people, dogs, and cats.|
Origins, Appearance, and Growth
Whale fin plants or Dracaena masoniana are members of the Asparagaceae family. They come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, they survive in hot, dry, and partially sunny conditions.
You identify the whale fin snake plant by its single, paddle-like, upright leaf. Mature plants will grow more, but their owners often propagate them to keep the one-leaf look.
It has a wavy, mottled color with dark and medium green over most of its area. At its base, it has a purplish-white that coils into a circle rather than forming a solid core. That color continues to the rhizome.
This plant rarely blooms indoors. But if you keep one outside during the summer, you might witness a cylindrical cluster of greenish-white petals. They open at night and cast a citrusy scent.
Give quality care to whale fin snake plants, yet they will still grow very slowly. It can take many years, if not decades, to reach the full height of 4 ft (122 cm) and width of 1 ft (30 cm). Variegated types grow slower than the regular whale fin plant.
Once mature, the rhizome hiding in the soil will produce a pup or a new plant. Some people like keeping a few of these together in one pot, while others like the single-leaf aesthetic and will divide the pup once it’s big enough.
Snake plants are succulents and like well-draining soil. Whale fin plants are no different.
You’ll want a succulent soil mix with added aeration to help let excess water leave the pot. 2 parts of succulent soil mix with 1 part of sand, perlite, or pumice get the job done.
They also don’t alter the soil pH. Whale fin snake plants prefer a neutral pH.
You may find conflicting information on light requirements for whale fin snake plants. They tolerate low light and, as slow growers, don’t demand more light.
But for best growth, they do prefer bright, indirect light. A windowsill facing east or west works well. A shady patio also serves if it’s warm enough outside.
Because of their thick leaves, Whale fin plant tolerate limited direct light and won’t burn like many other houseplants.
If you find that your leaves are growing narrower than expected, that’s a sign that it needs more light.
FURTHER READING: How Much Light Does Your Snake Plant Need? (Bonus Care Tips)
Whale fin sansevieria need minimal water.
You will want to water it thoroughly so the whole surface is dark, and the water goes through the pot’s drainage holes. Thorough watering assures that the snake plant can reach even moisture in every direction. Then, don’t water again until you can push your finger into the soil and not feel any moisture.
In the summer, you may end up watering once every 10 days. But in the winter, when the plant is dormant, you may need to water only once every 2–3 weeks.
If your plant lives in bright light, it will require more water than a plant growing in low light conditions.
Another way to tell when to water is to observe the whale fin plant’s leaf texture. If it looks wrinkly, it needs more water.
Underwatering is not a significant problem, but overwatering is. So, if you are unsure, err on the side of underwatering.
Read more: 3 Ways to Tell If a Snake Plant Needs Water
It also helps to use room temperature water as you don’t shock the roots.
Temperature and Humidity
Hailing from the tropics, whale snake plants love warm temperatures. They prefer 64–79° F (18–26° C), but as long as the air stays above 59° F (15° C), they’ll grow.
Don’t expose them to freezing temperatures or sudden changes like living next to a vent.
They are also from a drier area of the tropics, so they don’t have any special humidity needs. They’ll tolerate whatever your house has. Most houses hover between 40–60% humidity.
The rule for whale fin plants is to choose a pot that’s at least as wide as the leaf. Otherwise, the leaf will curl to accommodate its home.
As the plant gets taller, it will also benefit from a heavier pot for stabilization. That way, it doesn’t tip over when someone bumps into it. It also helps if you plant the green portion of the leaf two inches into the soil for added stability.
While any pot material will suffice, terracotta can absorb excess water. If you fear you might overwater, terracotta helps.
Whale fin plants (Dracaena masoniana) grow slowly. You will repot every 2–3 years more for the fresh soil nutrition than a need for larger pot size.
Whale snake plants grow well without fertilizer. But if you apply some anyway, the plants do best with a ¼ diluted, low-nitrogen option.
Cactus fertilizer often meets the low-nitrogen requirement. Nitrogen encourages fast growth in the above-ground tissue that outpaces rhizome and root growth in succulents.
Fertilizer should also be applied when watering. This way, the water will help the fertilizer get absorbed into the roots. Otherwise, it will sit on plant tissue and burn it.
You can propagate your whale fin plant in two ways. The easiest is division, followed by growing a leaf cutting in water.
When your plant is mature enough to sprout a new plant or pup, you can divide that pup. You wait until it’s several inches tall, then take sterile clippers to the rhizome to separate it from the parent plant. Let the pup have a few days in a dry and cool location to let the cut site dry. Then the pup is ready to be potted and treated like your other plant.
For leaf cuttings, you want to wait until your whale fin plant has at least two mature leaves. You’ll want to make a single, clean cut at the base of the leaf you want to propagate. Then like the division method, leave the cutting to dry for a few days.
Leaf cuttings in water need a clear glass. Use support like a chopstick for the leaf so that its cut base sits in water while the rest is free. Remember to change the water once a week. The plant will need a few weeks to develop roots. Then you can pot it.
Common Care Problems
Whale fin sansevieria are resistant plants. Most problems will come from overwatering. As long as you recognize the signs, you can course correct, and the plant will recover.
Signs of overwatering to watch out for include:
- Wilting leaf
- Yellowing leaf
- Mushy leaf and stem
- Shriveling leaf
Wilting and yellowing happen when an overwatered plant continues to absorb and store water in its leaves. The cells in the leaf eventually burst, and the leaf starts to lose shape. Let the pot dry up before watering again, and proceed with a less frequent watering routine.
The most common problem affecting whale fin plants is root rot. If your plant has a mushy leaf or stem, chronic overwatering has already nurtured fungi that cause root rot.
Sometimes you can save the plant if you check the roots after seeing other overwatering signs. Remove the plant, cut the dead roots, let it dry for a few days and repot in fresh soil, and the plant will rebound. But once the stem and leaf are affected, the plant will die. You’re better off propagating a leaf if you have enough of one that’s still healthy.
If you forget to water for several weeks, even a whale fin snake plant will suffer. The leaf turns gray green, curls up, and shrivels. When watering after a long break, the plant may experience shock. So, water a little the first week before returning to a routine.
What if you have stayed to a good watering and have a gray-green leaf?
The plant needs more light.
Another sign your whale fin snake plant needs more light is when you notice it fails to grow during the summer.
In rare cases, the leaf may fall over.
Collapse happens when leaf growth outpaces the rhizomes and roots that support the plant. Make sure you use a succulent soil mix, low nitrogen fertilizer if you fertilize, and add a few inches of soil.
Less commonly, you may find brown scales, mealy bugs, and spider mites on your plant.
Signs of pests include:
- Black dots
- White fuzz
Black dots indicate thrips or aphids, white fuzz means mealybugs, and webbing comes from spider mites.
You can pinch these pests off if only a few infest your plant. If you find a lot, spray neem oil on a cloth and wipe the cloth over infested areas. Be especially mindful of the underside of leaves.
You can also mix a drop of dish soap, a spoonful of rubbing alcohol, and water for a homemade spray. Since this mix dries the pests over time, you will see the most effect by spraying the leaves, waiting a few minutes, and then wiping with a cloth.
Whale fin plants produce a compound called saponin. Saponin exists throughout the plant.
When eaten by people or pets, it causes:
- Numbness in the mouth
- Swollen tongue
Some people also develop rashes when saponin contacts the skin. If you are concerned about an allergic reaction, use gloves when handling the plant.
Other Types of Whale Fin Plant
Whale fin plants come in a few varieties. Besides the mottled green regular type, it comes in solid and several variegated types.
The black whale fin plant (Dracaena masoniana Black) is almost entirely dark green. It sometimes has a thin pale margin or a few vertical streaks of light and even darker green. But its distinguishing trait from the original whale fin snake plant is the solid color.
Variegata whale fin plant (Dracaena masoniana var. Variegata) has a pale margin and streaks of green and yellow.
Mediopicta variegata whale fin plant (Dracaena masoniana var. Mediopicta) also goes by the gold variegated. The leaf has a solid creamy yellow core. Sometimes the yellow will be a lemon color or be transparent enough to show the mottled texture of the base type.
FURTHER READING: 5 Types of Variegated Whale Fin Plant (Varieties & Care Guide)
Whale fin snake plants complement most homes and lifestyles well and capture the eye of guests. One side effect of being a large, thick leaf is that the whale fin can accidentally get broken. So, take care when moving and placing it. Otherwise, stick to the guide and enjoy a thriving plant.