Mother In Law’s Tongue Plant (Dracaena trifasciata)

mother in law's tongue plant

Last updated on September 16th, 2022 at 08:21 am

Dracaena trifasciata, commonly known as the mother in law’s tongue plant, is a common houseplant with very specific lighting needs. It’s also one of the easiest plants to care for and one of the most beautiful you can own!

The mother in law’s tongue plant is an easy-to-grow plant that can reach up to 15 feet in height. In the wild, it can live up to 30 years; however, with proper care, it can live longer than that at home. The plant originates from Africa and can be found in areas like Kenya and Tanzania where it grows in forests or mountain regions and has also been known to grow near bodies of water as well.

Dracaena trifasciata has become one of the most popular houseplants in existence today. It’s easy to see why — the attractive leaves and overall lush appearance of this plant make it an excellent addition to almost any home or office decor. Unfortunately, the mother in law’s tongue plant can develop spider mites and scale, so you need to be aware of how to spot these pests before they have time to wreak havoc on your plant!

Here’s everything you need to know about this popular houseplant, including how to care for it and how to grow it from cuttings.

Origin and distribution

mother in law's tongue plant

The mother-in-law’s tongue plant, or Dracaena trifasciata, as it is commonly known, is native to Tanzania, Angola and Mozambique in Africa and was first introduced to Florida in 1896 by George F. Kunz. The plant is a tropical evergreen with stiff leaves that grow from a woody base with its longest leaves reaching up to 20 feet long!

It is also referred to as ribbon plant because of its leaf shape. There are many cultivars of Dracaena draco including ‘Janet Craig’ which has an upright habit; ‘Lemon Lime’ which has yellow stripes on green leaves; ‘Variegated Burgundy Stripe’ which has burgundy-colored stripes on green leaves; and ‘Variegated Gold Dust’ which has gold dust coloring on green leaves.

A newer cultivar is ‘Tricolor’ which features three colors: dark green, yellow and red. The mother-in-law’s tongue plant grows best outdoors in full sun to partial shade. A few hours of direct sunlight per day will help maintain vibrant coloration while giving enough shade for it to thrive indoors during winter months if necessary.

Mother in law’s tongue propagation

mother in law's tongue plant

If you want to start growing more mother in law’s tongue plants, there are a few methods you can use. The best way is to take stem cuttings and grow them in water or in soil. Place two inches of plain water into a jar and then place a cutting from your mother in law’s tongue plant inside. Store them inside under indirect sunlight. It will take about six weeks for roots to develop, after which you can transfer them into the soil.

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Another option is to simply stick a toothpick or nail through one of its stems and hang it upside down until roots develop. You should be able to see new growth after about three months if you’re using either method. However, make sure that you keep these cuttings away from direct sunlight; they tend to wilt quickly if exposed to too much light.

Also, make sure that you provide them with proper drainage by placing rocks at their base before adding soil so that excess water can flow out. If you do not have any existing mother in law’s tongue plants, you can also buy some online or at local garden centers. They are available year-round but they sell better during warmer months when people tend to spend more time outdoors.

Some garden centers even offer starter kits with a number of different plants bundled together, which can save you money on shipping costs since many places only ship live plants during certain times of the year.

Mother in law’s tongue care information

mother in law's tongue plant

The mother in law’s tongue plant is a fairly easy to care for houseplant. Place it in an area that receives bright, indirect light. Temperatures should be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. A little humidity would also be beneficial for optimum growth. Keep soil slightly moist at all times, but never soggy or over-watered as that can lead to root rot and cause yellowing leaves.

The mother in law’s tongue plant is a perennial that can grow up to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, although more typically it will reach about 2 1/2 feet in height. Depending on growing conditions, it can take two or three years to achieve maximum size.

Light requirement

The mother in law’s tongue is a beautiful, exotic houseplant that has dramatic long, striped leaves.

It prefers bright light but not direct sunlight; high humidity; and slightly acid soil with good drainage.

In addition to its looks, it offers many benefits and doesn’t require as much light as you might think. This plant can grow up to 6 feet tall so make sure you have room for it when you bring one home. It is commonly used in areas of medium-light or higher but may need to be placed where there isn’t a lot of direct sunlight to prevent leaf burn.

Soil/potting mix

The Mother in law’s tongue plant does well in soil that is well-drained, with a neutral pH and preferably a lot of organic material. When using the potting mix for Dracaena trifasciata, use one that has ingredients such as peat moss or coconut husk chips. Both of these types of organic matter will help retain moisture without overwatering your plant.

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If you have an African violet mix, it can also be used to repot your Dracaena trifasciata. It should be noted that some people do not recommend using African violet mixes because they are often high in salts which can burn plants like Dracaena trifasciata if they are not watered properly after transplanting them into new pots filled with African violet mix.


You’ll find that mother in law’s tongue plants are very sensitive to drought, requiring well-irrigated soil. If you live in an area with dry air, mist your plant daily or use a humidifier to help keep its leaves plump and healthy. Most likely, you’ll be watering your plant once every three days during spring and summer, less frequently during autumn and winter. Excessive watering can cause root rot, while extreme cold weather will freeze it up solid.


Because mother-in-law’s tongue is a tropical plant, it prefers to grow in soil that contains more nutrients than what would be found in a typical potting mix. Therefore, it’s important to fertilize occasionally during periods of active growth. A good liquid houseplant fertilizer works well, applied when watering every two weeks or so. It should contain macronutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus as well as micronutrients like iron and magnesium.


Dracaena is used as a houseplant in cooler climates; it will die if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep your plant warm by positioning it near a sunny window, placing it on a south-facing windowsill, or by using grow lights to simulate direct sunlight.

Excessive heat is harmful to Dracaena, so never place it near an air vent or radiator. Cold drafts are also harmful to Dracaena plants, which prefer to be kept at room temperature.

If you live in a colder climate and want to keep your plant outdoors during the summer months, bring it indoors before temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can’t bring your plant inside, move it into an unheated garage or shed until winter passes. If you don’t have access to these structures and plan on leaving your Dracaena outside all winter long, dig up the plant and store it in peat moss or sand over winter.


The mother in law’s tongue plant thrives on a regular misting with water and exposure to as much sunlight as possible. Keep an eye out for brown spots or leaf drops, and treat accordingly to prevent discoloration or permanent damage. You can also place your plant in indirect sunlight; it will still receive enough light to thrive but not so much that it scorches its leaves.

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The ideal humidity range is 40 to 60 percent. If your home’s air is dry, try placing a pebble tray or bowl of water near your plant; it will evaporate and humidify your space naturally.


Always follow a few basic pruning rules to keep your mother in law’s tongue plant healthy. Over pruning can cause stress and have a negative impact on its growth. The American Horticultural Society recommends cutting back dead leaves as well as any other leaves that are brown or yellowing to remove any diseased material. Use clean, sharp scissors or pruners; you don’t want to spread infection by introducing bacteria into an open wound.

When it comes to time to repot your mother in law’s tongue plant, try not to disturb its roots too much. If you need to move it up in size, do so gradually over several months rather than all at once. You may also need to fertilize it every now and then if it starts looking pale or sickly.

When to repot

mother in law's tongue plant

Repot your mother in law’s tongue plant every two years, using fresh soil and a container with drainage holes. Don’t repot your plant until you can see that it has outgrown its pot. Ideally, you should transplant your Dracaena when it is actively growing so that it doesn’t get stressed from being transplanted.

If you do notice any leaf loss after repotting, give your plant some time to adjust to its new home before watering again. Make sure to water only enough to moisten the top inch of soil; overwatering can cause root rot. If you choose not to repot at all, be prepared for your plant to become leggy over time.


Mother-in-law’s tongue, like many succulents, goes dormant during periods of drought or temperature extremes. If a leaf shrivels up and turns brown on your plant, it is still alive. Don’t throw it away! It will grow back just fine when given water again. Don’t ever prune your Dracaena—leave these leaves in place; they are not dead but merely resting until better conditions return.

Flowers & fragrance

The leaves of a mother in law’s tongue plant release a lemon or lime fragrance when crushed. This scent can fill an entire room within minutes of breaking or brushing against one of its fronds. The scent is a bit overbearing for most people and would be more suitable for a bathroom than as part of an office setting. You may find that you like its natural scent, though, if you have other plants or flowers nearby to help neutralize it in small spaces.

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Growth rate

The Dracaena plant itself isn’t necessarily an aggressive grower, but many cultivars of Dracaena are. As a rule of thumb, if you see a drac somewhere in a cultivar name, like Dracaeana marginata ‘Tricolor’, avoid it. These plants get massive and invasive very quickly, and are even banned in some states! Unless you have room for hundreds of feet of slender leaves – just go with whatever other cultivar you can find.


The mother in law’s tongue, or dragon tree, is extremely toxic to cats and dogs. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, all parts of dragon trees are poisonous—especially for cats, whose livers can be harmed by any amount of sap. Warning signs include drooling, vomiting, and difficulty breathing; if you notice these symptoms in your cat after it has been playing with a Dracaena draco plant, rush him to a vet immediately.

USDA hardiness zones

Mother in law’s tongue grows best in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12. The plant can be grown outdoors year-round, but it will die back during the cold winter months. It can also be grown indoors as a houseplant or patio plant, though it requires bright light and should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Pests and diseases

The mother in law’s tongue plants are difficult to grow, as they have many pests and diseases that may affect them. These pests and diseases include aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, red spider mites, fungal leaf spots, and viral diseases. Aphids can be removed by washing with a strong jet of water from a hose. For some other pests that are resistant to high-pressure water sprayers, a mixture of dishwashing soap and insecticidal soap can be sprayed on them for removal.


I hope you enjoyed learning more about one of my favorite plants. The mother in law’s tongue plant is pretty easy to grow, although you should keep it away from pets and children. I’ve had great success with mine, which is why I recommended it as a good starter plant for people who want to learn how to take care of indoor plants.