The interior of my house is rather dark due to extensive porches that block direct sunlight. As a result, I’m unable to grow most houseplants inside that require even moderate light. I wanted plants to place on either side of the front door in the foyer and in the past tried peace lilies and Chinese evergreen. Each would look fabulous upon purchase from a nursery and then slowly decline in the low indirect lighting my front door sidelights allowed.
I then discovered the wondrous ZZ plant, Zamioculas zamiifolia, a native of Africa that in the wild grows in partial to deep shade.
My first impression of this plant that I spotted in a local nursery was that it was a cycad, a member of the Zamia family like coontie and sago palms. But that is not the case. It is instead a member of the Araceae (Arum) family. Plants in this group all have blooms in the form of a spathe and spadix as in those of peace lilies or caladiums. The species name alludes to the fact that it does, in fact, resemble members of the Zamia family.
The ZZ plant is a slow grower and will reach a height and width of two to four feet at maturity. It has bulbous fleshy rhizomes that support thick, fleshy stems which give rise to waxy, glossy leafets that store water and makes it highly drought tolerant. It is intolerant of direct sunlight, which will quickly scald the leaves. As noted earlier, these interesting plants grow in very low levels of light, even in areas with only fluorescent lighting.
In areas of sufficient light, mature ZZ plants may produce blooms. Flowering occurs on mature plants during spring and early summer. The inflorescence appears just above the soil level and consists of a green spathe enclosing a fleshy spadix. Note that they are unlikely to flower if grown indoors.
While this plant has other common names including aroid palm, ‘ZZ plant’ is most commonly used. As a houseplant, it requires well-draining potting soil. Water it routinely but allow it to dry out between waterings. It will not tolerate wet feet, so allow it to drain before replacing it into the pot’s saucer. Liquid fertilizer used twice a year will encourage its growth.
The ZZ plant will add a tropical look to the inside of your home but consider that it can also be utilized as an outdoor potted plant in a very shaded location. It is not tolerant of cold and should be brought inside when temperatures are below 50 degrees. It grows best under tropical conditions ranging from 65 to 90 degrees.
Given correct growing conditions no diseases or pests are problematic with this plant. Root rot may occur if plants are grown in poorly aerated, compacted soil with excessive water for an extended period of time. The bulbous rhizomes of the ZZ plant will continue to grow as the plant matures, and you may find that you have to repot into larger pots occasionally. The plants I have now have split open the original nursery pots and are begging for larger homes.
It should be noted that ZZ plants are considered moderately toxic to children and to pets. As do many plants, they contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause skin and eye irritation with direct skin contact and can cause stomachache, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested. It is recommended that you wash your hands after handling the plant.
If your pets ingest a part of the plant, it is not lethal, but your pet may experience some discomfort. It is thus recommended that you place your ZZ plants out of reach of small children and pets.
So, if you’re in the market for an easy-to-care-for plant that purifies the air in your home or office place and adds a tropical feel, the ZZ plant could be just what you’ve been searching for.
Susan Barnes is a Master Gardener Volunteer with UF/IFAS Leon County Extension, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email [email protected].