Zamioculcas, a survivor born eons ago

Zamioculcas is a superb indoor plant native to tropical Africa.

Zamioculcas plant key facts

NameZamioculcas zamiifolia
FamilyAraceae
Type – indoor plant

Height – 1 ⅓ to 3 ft (0.5 to 1 m) indoors
Exposure – well-lit
Soil – soil mix

Foliage – evergreen
Care – easy

Care, repotting, watering and proper exposure are easy tasks. Each will make your Zamioculcas even more lush!

Planting and re-potting Zamioculcas

Upon purchasing, if the pot is too small, repot your zamioculcas. This helps the plant grow more adequately.

  • Usually, plants are sold by nurseries just before repotting is needed. Indeed, it is as showy as can be for the materials and time invested.

After that, every 2 or 3 years, repot your zamioculcas plant. Spring is the best season for repotting. Use a pot of a slightly larger size.

  • Zamioculcas roots hate excess water.
    Ensure that the pot has proper holes at the bottom. Also, increase drainage with a layer of gravel or clay pebbles along the bottom of the pot. Excess water will flow out more easily.
  • Good soil mix is needed.
    The plant, since it lives indoors, needs good soil mix. Soil mix is the only source for all the nutrients the Zamioculcas needs.
  • Upon repotting, you can split the crown into two parts to propagate your plant. Each half will grow back more vigorously. Splitting helps rejuvenate your Zamioculcas, too!

Best exposure for zamioculcas

The best place to set your zamioculcas up is near a window. It should let a decent amount of light through, but not direct sunlight.

Zamioculcas have been noted to survive with very little light.

  • Indeed, Zamioculcas is vulnerable to excess sun, and tolerates part shade when outdoors.
  • Absolutely avoid setting your zamioculcas near heat sources such as radiators. These tend to dry the air. Moisture is what this tropical plant needs most.
  • Although it will survive in low light, it grows faster the more light it gets.

When well-exposed and watered, a new Zamioculcas shoot can grow up to an inch in three days (1 cm/day)!

Zamioculcas in a terra cotta pot on a ledge with neighboring ivy in a pot.

Watering zamioculcas

Regular but moderate watering is called for if you want your zamioculcas plant to thrive.

Soft water is preferable by far, especially rainwater. When using tap water, let it sit for an hour for chlorine to evaporate.

How often you water zamioculcas depends on the season:

In spring and summer

Keep the soil mix moist and check that water drains properly.
Add leaf plant liquid fertilizer every 8 to 15 days during the growing phase.

  • Spray the leaves on a regular basis with calcium-free water.
  • Clean the plant with a cloth dipped in rainwater if dirty. You can even dunk it in a barrel entirely! Showering with soft water also helps remove dust from your zamioculcas.

In fall and winter

Reduce watering and wait for the soil to be dry before watering again. Your Zamioculcas will benefit from having a slow, dry, dormant season every year in winter.

Growth slows, and in some cases leaves fall off entirely, much like deciduous trees would do outdoors. Don’t worry though, new sprouts will appear come spring.

  • Stop adding fertilizer.
  • Water is usually colder in winter. When using either rainwater or tap water, let the cold water sit near your plant for at least an hour. It will warm up and won’t cause cold shock.

Propagating your Zamioculcas zamiifolia

It’s easy to multiply zamioculcas, although it takes months. On top of crown division mentioned above, another technique is that of leaf cuttings.

  • Cut a healthy stem off from the plant.
  • Detach each leaf from the stem, pulling it gently
  • Prick the zamioculcas leaves in soil or river sand stem facing down, to a depth of half an inch (1 cm).
  • Water.

After about 2 to 4 months, leaves will wilt away. Eventually, new shoots will appear. Transplant to individual pots when this happens.

Instead of preparing Zamioculcas cuttings, another option is to simply split the root bunch in two. This is called dividing the plant.

Diseases and pests found on zamioculcas

If the Zamioculcas stems and leaves turn yellow, it is most certainly due to excess watering. Overwatering also results in leaves losing their firmness and become soft.

Good light is needed. If lacking light, the plant will try to produce very long stems to search for light. Low light won’t kill your Zamioculcas, but will slow its growth.

If you haven’t watered the plant in a very long time, it might trigger a baffling drought coping response. Indeed, it may be that your Zamioculcas loses its leaves. It might happen after forgetting to water for several fortnights. Simply resume watering, a bit more regularly this time. New growth will sprout.

  • Tip: if your plant has shed its leaves, collect them instead of throwing them away. You can prepare Zamioculcas leaf cuttings from them.

One last point regarding parasites: zamioculcas is vulnerable to scale insects.

Types and varieties of Zamioculcas

Zamioculcas has only recently been introduced to commercial horticulture, in the 1990s. Dutch firms started cultivating the plant in massive growing stations.

In these 30 years, there hasn’t yet been much time for prized mutations to evolve. Only few have reached a stage where they can consistently be reproduced.

An exciting new development dates back only to 2017. It is still being rolled out in North American and European markets: the black-leaved Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Raven’ plant.

Several more classical varieties that resemble the type species are marketed under the following names:

  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Lucky classic’ – leaves are more slightly rounded.
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Zenzi’ – leaves only grow on the top half of stem. They’re thicker and stacked closer together.
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Zamicro’ – this variety is a dwarf ZZ plant or dwarf Zamioculcas. Stems stay under 16 inches long.

Some mutated leaves have given rise to variegated Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Variegated zamioculcas are quite rare with green and white leaves. And sometimes, an entire shoot turns out pale yellow, turning into an albino zz plant!

Learn more about zamioculcas

Zamioculcas plant growing in the wildA fabulous indoor plant, zamioculcas got its “ZZ plant” nickname from its Latin scientific name…  “Zamioculcas zamiifolia”.

One of the previous names was Caladium zamiifolium, possibly because of the remote resemblance of the zamioculcas roots to those of the Caladium family. However, that name has since been superseded and replaced.

It originated in southern Africa in the Zanzibar region. This explains why one of its common names is also “Zanzibar gem” – another couple ‘Z’s thrown in for fun!

The deep green of the lush, original variety led the plant to also being called “Emerald palm“, which suits it well!

Is Zamioculcas poisonous?

Zamioculcas contains sharp microscopic calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals are irritating compounds present in sap, leaves and roots. Calcium oxalate may cause rashes when handled intensively. Although this may be uncomfortable, there’s no need to panic if your child or pet have ingested small amounts. Zamioculcas isn’t toxic, poisonous or life-endangering in small quantities.

The irritation may cause light swelling and pain. It will quickly teach them not to chew on unknown plants!

Smart tip about Zamioculcas

Zamioculcas is often associated to the “succulent” family type. When found in nature in the wild, its stems and leaves store water in times of flood. It can go for months without watering after that.

This makes Zamioculcas an extremely easy houseplant to care for!

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Zamioculcas in pot by Flower Council Holland / the joy of plants
Zamioculcas on ledge by Reija Hirvonen ★ under Pixabay license
Free-growing Zamioculcas by Kim & Forest Starr ★ under © CC BY 4.0