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The ZZ plant, or Zamioculcas zamiifolia, is a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant houseplant from eastern Africa. The ZZ plant has earned various nicknames, including the Zanzibar gem, aroid palm, and eternity plant. It earned the last nickname because some say this plant can live forever. With proper care, it seems to do just that. Learn how you can easily grow and care for one in your home or office.
Fast Facts on ZZ Plants
|Common name||Zamioculcas, ZZ plant, Zanzibar gem, aroid palm, and eternity plant|
Eastern Africa, South Africa
Indirect sunlight; low light
Average mature height (indoor)
18 to 24 inches
Neutral to slight acidity; well-draining
Frequency of watering
Once every two to three weeks
Dangerous to pets and humans
Ideal humidity level
40% to 50%
The ZZ plant is known for its glossy, dark-green leaves that grow in a rosette pattern. Its roots are thick rhizomes that store water well, keeping the plant healthy and thriving even in drought conditions.
Raven ZZ plants are a newly trendy variant of the tropical perennial that used to be rare and expensive. They’re not identical to traditional ZZ plants but are closely related. Instead of green foliage, Raven ZZ plants feature a dark, purple-green hue.
We should note that the ZZ plant and its sap contain calcium oxalate, a known soft tissue irritant to humans. Contact with the skin, eyes, and mouth can cause burning, rash-like symptoms. So, consider wearing gloves when handling the plant and wash with soap and water afterward.
The symptoms may be more severe but not fatal to your furry friends. If your dog or cat ingests any part of the ZZ plant, you may notice these symptoms:
- Dehydration (from vomiting)
Consider keeping your ZZ plant out of reach or trying pet-safe indoor plants instead.
How to Grow a ZZ Plant Indoors
The ZZ became a sought-after succulent after Dutch nurseries began commercial-level propagation in 1996. These stylish plants add an elegant air to lower-light rooms and can flourish even with low levels of plant care—the perfect plant for the low-maintenance plant lover.
In their original homes in east Africa, ZZ plants would absorb a near-constant flow of nutrients from rainwater. Living under our roofs, however, these plants lack access to the minerals they would receive at home. Therefore, ZZ plants must be fertilized during the growing season to maintain healthy roots, leaves, and stems.
Liquid, granular, or slow-release fertilizers will work for your ZZ plant, but liquid is probably your best choice. Dilute commercial N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer by about 50%, and apply it to your plant as directed.
ZZ plants are tropical evergreens that flourish in low-light conditions. To grow a ZZ plant indoors, start by finding a location that receives bright indirect light. A minimum of six hours a day will keep your plant healthy.
Since ZZ plants do not like direct sunlight, place them near a southern window covered with a sheer curtain. You can even keep them in a windowless office provided you expose them to fluorescent lights for several hours a day.
Be sure not to let your plant get too much sunlight, however. A maximum of 12 hours of sunlight a day during the winter months is all a ZZ can take without getting sunburnt. If you notice your ZZ plant’s leaves curling up and turning yellow, it is getting too much sun.
Though they are generally easy-going, ZZ plants do best in soil with a slightly acidic pH, in the range of 6.0 to 7.0. They also prefer a soil mix that holds moisture yet also drains well. ZZ plants are susceptible to root rot.
Some gardeners recommend mixing organic potting soil with perlite, orchid bark, and horticultural charcoal. You can play with the exact ratio of bark to perlite to find what suits your plant.
These plants cannot withstand cold weather well. They generally prefer moderate, temperate climates with temperatures in the 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit range. Anything below 60 degrees Fahrenheit is starting to get too cold. This usually isn’t a problem, though, since ZZ plants are indoor plants that live in climate-controlled environments.
Humidity is at least as important as temperature to your ZZ plant. They do well in low-humidity conditions, so the average American home works fine. In their native habitats, ZZ plants live with about 40% to 50% humidity.
If the air in your space is too dry, you can add a humidifier or try grouping your plants more closely together. ZZ plants group nicely with others in the same genus, such as snake plants, pothos, monstera deliciosa, and philodendron.
Overwatering is a major reason that ZZ plants fail to thrive indoors. Only water your plant about once every two to three weeks or when the top inch of soil is dry.
If your plant’s normally waxy leaves start to wrinkle or wither, it’s probably time to give it a drink. Mushy, yellow leaves, by contrast, can signify that you might be overwatering.
How to Repot ZZ Plants
ZZ plants are relatively easy to care for but must be repotted every few years. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to repot your ZZ plant:
- Assess the plant. Is it rootbound? Are the leaves yellowing or wilting? If so, it’s time for a new pot.
- Choose a pot slightly larger than the current one, and make sure it has drainage holes.
- Carefully remove your plant from its current pot. Be careful not to damage the roots.
- Place the plant in the new pot, and fill it with fresh potting mix.
- Water your plant well, and place it in a location with bright, indirect light.
In general, repotting is a chore best done before the growing season starts.
How to Propagate ZZ Plants
One of the lovely things about ZZ plants is that they are simple to propagate. So, if you want to create more plants, you need to dig in and do the work.
To propagate a ZZ plant from rhizomes:
- Do not water the root ball for two weeks.
- Gently remove the plant from its container.
- Slice off a tuber with roots or stems growing from it.
- Allow the wound to stop weeping.
- Replant in a well-drained potting mix, and water it thoroughly.
To propagate a ZZ plant from a leaf cutting:
- Choose a healthy, mature plant from which to take your cutting.
- Cut a stem at least six inches long, and ensure there are two or more leaves on the stem.
- Stick the cut end of the stem into a glass of water, ensuring that at least one leaf is above the surface of the mix until rootlets form.
- Root the new plant into a potting mix.
Common Issues with ZZ Plants
The ZZ plant is a resilient houseplant that can thrive in various conditions, but without proper care, it can wither or even die. Some common issues with ZZ plants include the following:
Though the ZZ plant is drought-tolerant, keeping the soil from drying out is essential, as this can cause the leaves to drop. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, and fertilize monthly during the growing season.
While ZZ plants thrive in fertilized soil, overfertilization causes bigger problems for these plants than under-fertilization does. To avoid overfertilizing your plant, apply a diluted liquid fertilizer no more than twice a year.
Be sure the plant is well moistened when you fertilize it, and stop pouring in fertilizer after you see liquid flowing from the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Allow the plant at least two months to rest between fertilizations.
Allow the soil to dry out completely between watering, and give your ZZ plant a rest period in winter by reducing watering.
Too Much Bright Light
The ZZ plant likes bright, indirect light but can tolerate low-light conditions. If the leaves start to yellow, it indicates your plant is getting too much light.
Insect and Disease Problems
ZZ plants can succumb to brown scale bugs, gnats, mites, scales, aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs. Yellow marks or spots on the plant are the most common telltale signs of an insect or disease problem.
If you suspect insects, wipe each leaf with alcohol on a cotton ball to get rid of the bugs, and consult a professional pest control company about the best way to prevent insects from entering your home.
ZZs make beautiful indoor plants, and ZZ plant care is relatively simple. You do not need to prune a ZZ plant’s new growth or give it frequent care.
To keep your plant thriving, choose a well-draining potting mix, water it once every two to three weeks, fertilize it once a year, and guard against overwatering and too much sunlight.
ZZ Plant FAQ
Where should I place a ZZ plant in my house?
Feng shui experts recommend keeping your ZZ plant in the southeast corner of your home—if you want the good fortune the plant is said to bring, that is. To keep your plant healthy, make sure it is not near a window where it can get too much sun.
Is the ZZ plant poisonous to touch?
Part of the Araceae family, ZZ plants contain the same compound as all their other family members. It is called calcium oxalate and can cause a very mild rash on humans or pets who interact with the plant. However, most people who own ZZ plants never experience any adverse effects. To be safe, you can use gloves when handling the plants.
What is the life span of a ZZ plant?
ZZ plants seem to live practically forever. Their leaves survive about six months or longer—even if you don’t water your ZZ plant, it can go about four months. With care, though, they can live five to 10 years or longer.