The unusual but lovely ZZ plant has been a houseplant classic for decades, and for good reason. This eastern African beauty ticks all the boxes and is perfectly suitable for those who are just starting out in the houseplant hobby.
Find out all about care for ZZ plant and how to grow this shiny-leaved aroid species in your own home!
|Name(s) (Common, scientific)||ZZ plant, zeezee plant, aroid palm, emerald palm, eternity plant, Zanzibar gem, zuzu plant, fat boy, gold coin plant, fortune plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia|
|Recommended lighting||Bright indirect|
|Water||Keep lightly moist|
ZZ plant natural habitat
ZZ plants are found in eastern Africa, specifically tropical regions of Zanzibar and Tanzania. In these regions, there is both a wet and a dry period, with the plant surviving by going dormant during the dryer months.
The species was first described as Caladium zamiifolium in the early 1800s, although it was later deemed the sole species in the genus Zamioculcas. It’s actually an aroid plant just like Monstera or Anthuriums, although it doesn’t really resemble its distant cousins at all.
Did you know? The ZZ plant has many common names. They include but are not limited to: zeezee plant, aroid palm and emerald palm (despite not being a palm), eternity plant, Zanzibar gem, zuzu plant and fat boy. The species is often bought to celebrate Chinese new year and regarded as a money plant, referred to as gold coin plant or fortune plant.
ZZ plant light and temperature
One of the things that makes ZZ plants so appealing is that they are among the houseplants that don’t need high light conditions. In their natural habitats they tend to grow in lightly shaded environments with taller trees blocking out direct sun but not all light. This gives us a pretty good indication of what the plant will prefer indoors.
In your home, your ZZ plant will shine best in bright, indirect light. Place it on or next to a windowsill that doesn’t receive direct sun or a few feet away from one that does.
A few hours of morning or evening sun is alright, just don’t let your plant be blasted by the most intense rays!
If you are nice and comfortable in your home, chances are good that your ZZ plants are as well. Although they are tropical plants, they do just fine at average room temperature and humidity. All you need to do is make sure they’re are not too close to any drafts or heat sources, like an A/C or a heater.
If you do happen to see some brown tips on the leaves, it means that the air is way too dry. To help your ZZ bounce back, consider putting it in a room where the humidity is naturally higher, such as a bathroom (as long as it has windows, of course).
Tip: If your Zamioculcas zamiifolia seems to be suffering from a lack of humidity, it’s likely you are as well. Consider checking the air moisture levels with a hygrometer and running a humidifier if it turns out humidity is not optimal.
ZZ plant soil and planting
When it comes to soil, choose or mix something of your own that is well-draining. After all, ZZ plants have succulent-like properties, storing loads of water in their leaves and stems! They like moisture but don’t appreciate standing water.
Many people recommend making a mix of 1 part general potting soil to 1 part cactus or succulent mix. You can also add perlite or some orchid bark to keep the soil from becoming compacted, as well as some peat moss for better moisture retention.
Although ZZ plants initially start out as slow growers, once they’re established, they’ve been known to grow pretty quickly. Because of this, you may need to repot every year or so if your ZZ plant is happy in your home.
It’s recommended to repot during the spring and choose a pot size that’s around 2 inches or so larger than the current container. You can use a terracotta planter or just a standard plastic nursery pot. As long as the container has drainage holes, your ZZ plant will be happy.
Watering ZZ plant
The number one issue that houseplant enthusiasts run into when it comes to care for ZZ plant is that there seems to be persistent misinformation out there about the species’ watering needs.
Specifically, it’s tempting to think that its water-storing capabilities mean that you will barely have to water your ZZ. After all, they naturally grow in habitats with an extensive dry season, right? It’s true that this species is pretty forgiving about watering and it won’t mind your forgetting to water occasionally.
However, if you consistently underwater, your ZZ plant will do what it does in the wild when the dry season rolls around: go dormant. And that means you’ll end up with a soil-filled container with an empty stem or two, or even just a buried tuber that’s waiting for the ‘rainy season’. As such, although these plants can handle dry conditions, withholding water won’t exacly result in a pretty ZZ.
In the end, Zamioculcas zamiifolia will usually still chug along without issues even if you forget a watering. That’s why they’re often praised for being unkillable, but don’t forget that their ideal situation is still to receive plenty of moisture. They are aroids after all!
Let the top 2 inches or so of the soil dry out before watering again but make sure the rest of the soil is evenly moist.
ZZ plant propagation
When it comes to propagating ZZ plants, it’s possible but often not worth the time and effort. Considering that it can take months, even up to a year, for new roots to establish, you’re better off just buying a new plant. Even using growth hormones make very little difference!
However, if you want to try just for the experience, you can propagate ZZ plants by separating the rhizome or by taking stem cuttings. You can then grow your cuttings in soil or water. Just remember that it’ll be a long time before you see your new plants take off.
ZZ plant fertilizer
ZZ plants aren’t demanding when it comes to fertilizers but do appreciate a little extra nutrients now and again.
About once a month during the growing season, you can use a general houseplant fertilizer diluted to about half strength or less.
Tip: As with any houseplant, remember not to use any fertilizer outside of the growing season. A houseplant that’s not growing won’t have any use for the nutrients. They will just end up burning the roots.
Problems with ZZ plant
Since this species is famous for being near indestructible, it doesn’t don’t come with many problems. Insect pests don’t seem to find ZZ plants as appealing as other houseplants. In fact, even when other houseplants in the same household are being decimated by pests, ZZ plants tend to remain unscathed!
Even so, still do your due diligence and keep an eye out for the usual issues as part of your ZZ plant care routine.
- Bugs like scale and mealybugs will tend to hang out on the underside of plant leaves if they are present. They especially prefer the area where the leaf connects to the stem.
- One thing you need to watch out for in your everyday ZZ plant care is overwatering, especially during winter when the plant isn’t grow as much. Although they like to be kept evenly moist, if you overwater and leave the roots to sit in water for too long, you may run into bacterial or fungal problems.
Root rot is a common issue that manifests in black leaf spots and eventually even plant death.
- Yellow leaves on a ZZ plant, especially followed by leaf crisping, as a sure sign you fell into the trap of underwatering. Remember to keep this one lightly moist: you may have to increase the watering frequency when it’s hot out, as it’ll dry out quicker.
Buying ZZ plant
Thanks to Dutch nurseries in South Africa seeing their potential in the late 1990s, ZZ plants are now available all over the world.
With so many varieties to choose from you’re bound to find something to fall in love with. Go for the standard green ZZ plant or opt for a more exotic cultivar like Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Black Raven’.
Are ZZ plants toxic to cats and dogs?
Yes, all parts of ZZ plants are poisonous to animals and humans. Ingesting ZZ plants can cause vomiting, stomach aches, and diarrhea.
Even touching ZZ plant sap can potentially cause skin and eye irritation. So if you have pets or children, this is one houseplant you’ll definitely want to keep out of reach. Don’t forget to wear gloves when repotting yours.
Until a few years ago, it was even believed that ZZ plants were so toxic that they could cause cancer. Fortunately, it seems as though this common belief has been debunked in recent years (Le Moullec, Juvik & Fossen, 2015).
If you have any more questions about ZZ plant care or if you want to share your own experiences with this ideal houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 🌱
Le Moullec, A., Juvik, O. J., & Fossen, T. (2015). First identification of natural products from the African medicinal plant Zamioculcas zamiifolia—A drought resistant survivor through millions of years. Fitoterapia, 106, 280-285.