Zamioculcas zamiifolia: how to look after the exotic ZZ plant

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

The Zamioculcas zamiifolia, commonly known as the ZZ plant, is a striking indoor plant with glossy, emerald green, succulent leaves and gracefully arching thick, fleshy stems.

I first grew Zamioculcas zamiifolia myself in a house I had in London in the early 2000s.

The ZZ plant was being sold in our our local supermarket. I had never seen it before and I couldn’t resist its shiny leaves and exotic appearance.

There was a gloomy area on the landing at the top of the stairs in the house, lit only by a high skylight. In houseplants terms, this was a problem area – a bit like an area of dry shade in the garden.

But, as it turned out, it was no problem for the ZZ plant which thrived there and surprised me by quickly developing new stems and leaves.

The great thing about Zamioculcas zamiifolia, though, is not just its ability to handle low light. It is also drought tolerant, making it one of the genuinely easier to care for house plants.

What is more the ZZ plant has air purifying qualities and has been shown to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from indoor air, although the extent of its air-cleaning capabilities in typical home environments is subject to debate.

So, this is a plant that is both stylish, good for your home environment and nearly indestructible, all of which is why the ZZ plant is such a popular house plant choice.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia quick care guide

Caring for ZZ plants is straightforward. They are categorised as ‘easy’ due to their minimal care requirements. They can endure periods of neglect, making them ideal for busy people or those new to plant care.

  • Light requirements: Indirect, low to bright light.
  • Water requirements: Allow soil to dry between waterings.
  • Humidity requirements: Average indoor humidity. ZZ plants do best in low humidity, around 40-50%, and are susceptible to pests and rot if the humidity is too high.
  • Temperature requirements: 60-75°F (15-24°C), not below 45°F (7°C)
  • Potting soil requirements: Well-draining soil mix.
  • Fertiliser requirements: Use a balanced, half-strength liquid fertiliser every month in summer.
  • Propagation: Division, leaf cuttings.
  • Repotting: Every 2 years or so when root-bound and/or when rhizomes become exposed or crowded.
  • Pruning: Minimal, to remove dead leaves

All about Zamioculcas zamiifolia

The ZZ plant, is a stemless tropical herbaceous perennial native to the foothills and lowlands forests of eastern Africa.

It has a fleshy rhizomatous root system, which stores water and helps the plant survive drought – which is why it can tolerate some neglect when grown indoors.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia only became available as an indoor plant in the late 1990s, when Dutch nurseries began to cultivate and distribute it widely. But it soon became incredibly popular, partly because of its striking appearance but also because of its other attributes.

In 2002, the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association named Zamioculcas a “Florida Plant of the Year”.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia key facts

  • Scientific name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia
  • Synonyms: Zamioculcas loddigesii, Caladium zamiafolium
  • Common names: ZZ plant, Zanzibar Gem
  • Plant family: Araceae
  • Origin: Eastern Africa
  • Type of plant: Perennial
  • Size: 2-3 feet indoors
  • Foliage: Glossy, dark green leaves
  • Flower: Spadix-like, very rare indoors
  • Fruit: Not typically produced indoors
  • Toxicity: Toxic to pets and people if ingested (ASPCA)

ZZ Plant

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How to grow Zamioculcas zamiifolia: the detailed guide

As we’ve seen, the beauty of the ZZ plant, especially for new house plant enthusiasts, is that it can cope with a range of conditions and is forgiving if left to survive on its own resources for a while.

Nevertheless, there are some details worth knowing when it comes to looking after the ZZ plant and we cover them in this section.

You can also read more about looking after house plants in general in our comprehensive guide to the 7 critical requirements of house plant care here.

Light

The ZZ plant is renowned for its adaptability to various lighting conditions, which contributes significantly to its popularity. It thrives in bright indirect light but can also flourish in low-light interiors where other plants may struggle. This makes it a viable choice for rooms with limited natural light, as per the example of my upper landing above.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia light requirements
ZZ plant thrives best in bright indirect light, but tolerates lower light conditions

In optimal light conditions, the ZZ plant displays its characteristic lush, glossy leaves to full effect. If the plant receives too little light, it may become leggy as it stretches towards the nearest light source. Conversely, if it is exposed to too much direct sunlight, the leaves may turn yellowy brown and develop dry, crispy edges.

However, beware: the ZZ plant’s tolerance for low light doesn’t mean it will thrive in very dark corners. The plant’s growth can be slower in such conditions, and while it may survive, for optimal health and growth, place it in a space where it receives bright, indirect light. This could be near a window with sheer curtains or in a well-lit room with good natural or artificial light.

Soil and feeding

Use a well-draining soil mix. Fertilise sparingly to avoid salt buildup, which can harm the fleshy rhizomes and roots.

It is best to use a diluted balanced liquid fertiliser once a month during the growing season (April to August). In the autumn and winter you can reduce feeding to every 2-3 months or, where light levels are low, stop feeding completely until spring.

Watering

Overwatering is the most common mistake with the ZZ plant. It is definitely better to water this plant too little rather than too much.

During spring and summer check the soil is dry before moisture before watering and ensure the plant has good drainage to avoid root rot.

Signs of under-watering include dry, crispy leaf tips, while overwatering may result in yellowing leaves and mushy stalks.

Yellow leaves are a sign of over-watering

Pruning

There is not much pruning needed for the ZZ plant. All you have to do is remove any yellow or dead leaves, or stems, to maintain its neat appearance.

Propagation

You can propagate Zamioculcas zamiifolia through stem cuttings, leaf cuttings or by division.

Leaf or stem cuttings can be rooted in soil or water, but the the cuttings can be slow to grow roots. It also takes many months for a reasonable sized plant to develop.

Therefore, division, the process involves separating the ZZ plant into smaller plants, is probably the best propagation option.

However, take care not to do this too often as the rhizomes grow slowly. Over-propagation by division can harm the parent plant due to the slow regeneration of rhizomes.

It is best to wait until the plant is quite large and has multiple stems before attempting division, ensuring that each new plant has a good section of rhizome and roots to sustain it.

Ensure there is a good section of rhizome on the division

Once your plant is mature enough to divide, then propagation by division is a pretty straightforward process because of the plant’s rhizome system. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Preparation: Choose a mature ZZ plant that is healthy and has several stems. You will need a sharp knife, potting mix, and small pots for the new plants.
  2. Removal: Gently remove the plant from its pot. Carefully brush away the soil from the rhizomes to reveal the natural divisions of the plant.
  3. Division: Identify sections of the rhizome that have at least one healthy stem and a good root system. Using the knife, cut the rhizome into sections, ensuring each new section has roots attached.
  4. Potting: Plant each division in its own pot filled with a well-draining potting mix. The pots should be only slightly larger than the root ball of the division to encourage growth.
  5. Aftercare: Water the new plants thoroughly and place them in a warm, bright spot with indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight, and be careful not to overwater as the new roots grow and the divisions establish themselves.
  6. Observation: Monitor the new plants for growth. New shoots from the rhizome indicate successful propagation.
Do not create divisions that are too small

Common Problems and Solutions

The ZZ plant is relatively trouble free, but there are a few points worth knowing.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia troubleshooting guide

Leaves and shoots

  • Black spots on leaves can indicate a fungal or bacterial infection from the soil, affecting the root structure and causing yellow blotches that turn black.
  • Curling leaves can be a response to conserve moisture due to direct sunlight, dehydration, or cold drafts.
  • Pale green leaves on mature foliage could suggest a nitrogen deficiency, requiring fertiliser treatment.
  • Yellow leaves are are a sign of over-watering. Remove the affected stem and cut back on watering.

Roots

  • Root rot from excessive moisture. Ensure proper drainage.

Pests

Look out for:

  • Mealybugs – cotton-like bugs that congregate on new growth and leaf axils.
  • Spider mites – tiny reddish spiders that create cause webbing on the leaf surface.
  • Scale insects – theses appear as tiny brown bumps on plant leaves and can be manually removed.
  • Whiteflies – are white flying insects that feed on plant juices, leading to faded or yellowed leaves.

Deal with pests by:

  • Neem oil, rubbing alcohol and dish soap, and sticky traps .
  • Insecticidal soaps or a solution of dish soap and water. This can help suffocate soft-bodied insects.
  • Horticultural and canola oil – this can be used against soft-bodied insects.
  • Showering the plant – take it outside (in warm conditions) and spray with a high-pressure stream of water from your hose to help blast pests off.

Diseases

  • Generally disease resistant. Avoid overwatering to prevent root decay and fungal infections.

Winter care

During winter, reduce watering and stop, or greatly reduce, fertilising. Ensure the plant is not exposed to cold drafts or heaters.

Read more about how to overwinter your house plants here.

Buy Zamioculcas zamiifolia

So, if you’ve got this far and are feeling like you can’t resist this beautiful plant, I’ve listed some buying options below – depending on whether you are US or UK based.

The buy links are affiliate links, which means I’d be paid a (very) small commission if you go on and buy after clicking these links. But that does not affect the price you pay.

ZZ Plant

US Buyers

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Uk Buyers

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Zamioculcas zamiifolia frequently asked questions

1. How often should I water my ZZ plant?

Water when the top inch or so of soil is dry, typically every 2-3 weeks, depending on the environment.

2. How toxic are ZZ plants?

They contain calcium oxalate crystals which can irritate the mouth and digestive tract if ingested.

3. Is Zamioculcas poisonous to dogs?

In short, yes. If swallowed, there is a risk of vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach problems. The sap can also irritate the dog’s skin, e.g. in exposed areas around the mouth or tummy.

4. Can ZZ plants tolerate direct sunlight?

No, they prefer indirect light. Direct sunlight can cause leaf burn.

5. Are ZZ plants really low-light plants?

Yes, they can tolerate low light, but they grow best in bright, indirect light.

6. Why are the leaves on my ZZ plant turning yellow?

Yellow leaves often indicate overwatering. Let the soil dry out more between waterings.

ZZ plant Cultivars

There are only a few varieties of ZZ plant, which probably stems from the fact that the plant has not been commercially cultivated for long. The varieties worth checking out are:

  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Zenzi’, which is a dwarf cultivar with a thick, compact habit and very dark green leaves;
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Black Raven’, a ZZ Plant with dramatic, nearly black leaves;
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Variegata’, a variegate ZZ Plant variety.

Other great foliage plants

See our guides to caring for these other great foliage plants:

Key references and resources

Alloway, Z and Bailey (F). (2018) RHS Practical House Plant Book: Choose The Best, Display Creatively, Nurture and Care, Royal Horticultural Society, UK.

Camilleri,L and Kaplan, S. (2020), Plantopedia: The Definitive Guide to Houseplants, Smith Street Books.

Hessayon, Dr D.G. (1991) The New House Plant Expert, PBI Publications, UK.

Brickell, C. (2016). Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants. 4th Edition Dorling Kindersley.

Squire, D. (2017). Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants, CompanionHouse Books.

Nelson, G (2021). Plant – House plants: Choosing, Styling, Caring. Mitchell Beazley. London

Brickell, C. (2011). American horticultural society encyclopedia of plants and flowers. Penguin.

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