They are xerophytic herbaceous to shrubby succulent perennial plants with evergreen strap-shaped leaves, growing to 20 cm to 3 m tall, often forming dense clumps from a spreading rhizome or stolons. The flowers are greenish-white, produced on a simple or branched raceme 40-90 cm long. The fruit is a red or orange berry.
The genus was named in honor of Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771), prince of San Severo in Italy. Spellings "Sanseveria" and "Sanseviera" are commonly seen as well, the confusion deriving from alternate spellings of the Italian place name.