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If there’s one houseplant that can thrive even in the face of neglect, it’s the ZZ plant. This lush tropical perennial—also known as aroid palm or by its mouthful of a botanical name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia—is adaptable to infrequent waterings and all kinds of light conditions. That means you can incorporate the ZZ plant and its shiny deep-green leaves into many different spaces, from fluorescent-lit offices to a spacious open-plan living room with lots of light.
While ZZ plants may be slow growers, they more than makeup for that by being highly adaptable and low-maintenance. At maturity, these plants will grow to two to four feet tall and wide, with long, spreading compound leaves composed of small leaflets on a central shoot growing directly from the soil.
Because they're so adaptable to different conditions and borderline indestructible, ZZ plants make a great houseplant for beginner gardeners or for spaces like offices, waiting rooms, restaurants, and rental houses where ideal care might not be possible. As a bonus, they've been shown to improve air quality and filter out volatile organic compounds in indoor spaces. Here's all you need to know about ZZ plant care.
- Botanical Name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia
- Common Name: ZZ plant, aroid palm, emerald palm, Zanzibar gem, Zuzu plant
- Plant Type: Perennial succulent
- Mature Size: 2–4 feet high
- Sun Exposure: Shade to partial, indirect sun
- Soil Type: Commercial potting soil
- Soil pH: 6.0–7.0
- Toxicity: Toxic
It’s important to allow your ZZ plant’s soil to dry out fully between waterings. Its rhizomes (or underground stems) store up water beneath the soil, giving it the ability to tolerate periods of drought. Because of this, too much—rather than too little—water is typically an issue with ZZ plants. If you notice leaflets yellowing or dropping, try cutting back on the water, as soil that’s overly moist can make the fleshy rhizomes rot.
Check the soil moisture frequently when you first bring your plant home, and water accordingly moving forward. While ZZ plants have been able to grow well with as much as four months between waterings, they should be watered regularly to avoid dormancy.
Repot your ZZ plant when you see signs that it’s root-bound, such as browning leaves, roots growing out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, and soil that drains and dries out very quickly (a sign that the plant is too root-bound for water to penetrate). Carefully remove the plant from the pot, loosen the root ball with your fingers, prune back any black or rotten roots, and then replant with fresh potting soil in a container one size larger.
While ZZ plants are grown mostly for their foliage, mature specimens will produce tiny flowers with a pale green spathe (a single leaf-life structure protruding from the flower) partially surrounding a white or pale yellow spadix (a central floral spike). Flowers grow low amid the base of the leaves and appear in midsummer or early fall.
Best Growing Conditions for ZZ Plants
ZZ plants can withstand low light and adapt to conditions from full to partial shade, although they do best when grown in bright, indirect light. An east-facing window that gets only morning light or a north-facing window are good options for ZZ plants. Too much sunlight can create brown spots on your plant’s leaves.
Plant your ZZ in a well-drained, all-purpose potting mix or a growing medium that’s three parts all-purpose mix and one part succulent soil mix. These tropicals need temperatures no lower than around 65 degrees at night. While their natural habitat is humid, ZZ plants can also adapt to lower-humidity indoor spaces as well.
ZZ Plant Varieties
Among the varieties of ZZ plants, "Zamicro" is a dwarf cultivar, which is smaller in size than the typical variety, and Raven ZZ, which is grown in North America, features dramatic dark-purple leaves that are nearly black in color.
Common Growing Problems
Since ZZ plants store water in their rhizomes, or underground stems, overwatering is a common growing problem. Err on the side of under-watering to avoid root rot. These plants also dislike direct sunlight, so favor indirect light. They can even thrive in low-light areas. Also, avoid super humid environments.
If your plant is situated in an environment with little to no humidity, mist its leaves with water to offset dry air.
How to Propagate ZZ Plants
The quickest way to propagate a large ZZ plant specimen is by division—simply separating or cutting the plant’s roots into two clumps and replanting them. However, it’s also possible to propagate ZZ plants by rooting leaf cuttings or leaflets. These methods take a little longer, but they're the best option for propagating smaller specimens.
Another propagation technique is rooting the leaflets, which grow along the “stem” of the plant’s compound leaves. An easy way to do this and fill out your existing plant is to collect any healthy leaves that break off your plant and bury the petiole end (the part that connects to the leaf) halfway within the soil of the mother plant.
Propagating ZZ Plants with Leaf Cuttings
Step 1: Prepare a clean glass or jar, and fill it about halfway with clean water. To reduce the risk of rot, use a small container of moist, well-draining soil instead.
Step 2: With a clean, sharp blade, cut through the leaf as close to the base as possible. Remove any leaflets growing on the bottom six to eight inches of this leaf (these can be propagated separately).
Step 3: Place the leaf in the glass of water, or plant it in the container of moist soil. Depending on the conditions in your space, you should see new rhizomes growing from the base of the cutting within two months to a year.
Propagating ZZ Plants with Leaflets
Step 1: Prepare a shallow container with a clear lid with a one-to-two-inch layer of potting soil (plastic takeout containers work well for this). Spritz the soil with water to moisten.
Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, remove a leaflet by cutting as close to the central shoot of the leaf as possible.
Step 3: Plant the leaflet in the tray of soil at a 45-degree angle so that the petiole end (the part connecting the leaflet to the central shoot) is beneath the soil. You can propagate several leaflets in the same container at once this way. Cover and close the container.
Step 4: Check the container periodically to monitor growth, and spritz the soil lightly if it's dried out. While it may take several months, the buried leaflet ends should grow small potato-like tubers even as the original leaflets wither away. These can be planted in moist soil and will eventually produce a new plant.
Propagating ZZ Plants with Division
If your ZZ plant is large and healthy, the best way to propagate it may be by division, which will result in two, three, or more smaller plants, depending on the size of the mother plant and how many new plants you’d like to make. Keep in mind that this method should only be used every few years, as dividing a plant that’s too small or immature risks damaging the plant.
Step 1: Prepare two or three smaller pots with fresh potting mix.
Step 2: Carefully remove the mother plant from its current pot by placing the container on its side. Gently grasp the base of the leaves, and pull the pot away from the roots. If the pot is stuck, loosen the soil around the edge of the pot with a digging knife, trowel, or utility knife.
Step 3: Grasping the plant by the base of the leaves with one hand, use your other hand to gently loosen the root ball and remove excess soil. Use pruners or a utility knife to cut away any rotten or shriveled roots.
Step 4: Inspect the root ball for natural points of division—where you'll have to make the fewest number of cuts to separate the roots of the new plants. Using your utility knife, carefully saw through the root ball and rhizomes as cleanly as possible at the separation points.
Step 5: Pot each section of the plant into an appropriately-sized container with fresh soil, and then water until the soil is moist. Care for the plant as usual.
Is ZZ Plant Toxic?
Unfortunately, all parts of the ZZ plant are toxic to humans and pets if ingested, so take care to keep it out of reach of children, dogs, cats, and other four-legged friends. Choose a spot out of reach to display your ZZ plant.
Zamioculcas zamiifolia. North Carolina State Extension.
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Houseplants: Safe and Toxic Varieties. University of Connecticut Home and Garden Education Center. 2016
Easy Houseplants—ZZ Plant. University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science.
Which Foliage Houseplants Are Easiest to Grow? University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. December 4, 2019
My First Indoor Plant – Part 2: Popular Indoor Plant Choices. Michigan State University Extension. December 12, 2019