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Everything You Need to Know About ZZ Plants

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Everything You Need to Know About ZZ Plants

January 21, 2020

As I was headed into my local nursery the other day, an interior-plant deliveryman was unloading a van out front. Because I am perennially curious and a devout plant lover, I poked my head inside and saw the vehicle was basically a fully loaded plant-candy store with a fine selection of leaves and stems instead of chocolate and sprinkles. And because I am that kind of person, I struck up a conversation with the grower. After taking the one-minute “tour” of the truck, I asked him what his most popular plant was. You guessed it: ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia).

ZZ plant is the quiet hero of nearly any Instagram-worthy houseplant collection, the stalwart soldier in the corner of the photo frame as you scroll through thousands of images of #houseplantsofinstagram and #crazyplantlady foliage.

Turns out there’s a good reason that tropical plant Z. zamiifolia is a social media darling. After further discussion (and not even trying to pronounce the lengthy name), I was so convinced that I marched into the nursery and bought my own #zzplant. What persuaded me?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the hipster houseplant ZZ.

What is a ZZ plant?

An aerial view of ZZ plant by @foliage_fixation.
Above: An aerial view of ZZ plant by @foliage_fixation.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia has been around for centuries, originating in drought-prone Africa (where it thrives outdoors). A couple of decades ago, Dutch nurseries located in South Africa saw the plant’s propagating potential and in 1996 started distributing it around the world. Since then, ZZ plants have entered hearts, homes, and offices worldwide.

Why are ZZ plants so popular?

A four-inch ZZ Plant comes in a plastic nursery pot; \$\1\1 from The Sill.
Above: A four-inch ZZ Plant comes in a plastic nursery pot; $11 from The Sill.
ZZ plant, with its wide, attractive, dark green leaves, boasts many favorable traits for offices and homes. ZZ plant tolerates neglect, is drought tolerant, and accepts low-light conditions without throwing a fit. Its waxy, smooth leaves reflect sunlight and brighten rooms. ZZ usually grows slowly to a height and width of two to three feet so it is not a plant monster that outgrows containers quickly.

ZZ plant also is an air purifier and in a NASA study, researchers found it is specifically adept at removing copious amounts of toxins such as xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air.

Wait, didn’t I read somewhere that ZZ plants are poisonous?

A ZZ plant growing on Maui. Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr.
Above: A ZZ plant growing on Maui. Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr.

ZZ’s one major drawback is that all parts of the plant are poisonous. In fact, during the 2010s there were false rumors that ZZ was so toxic that the plant caused cancer, and was so dangerous that people wore gloves when handling it. The truth? It’s toxic but not cancerous. Don’t eat it, keep it away from nibbling pets and overly curious children, and always wash your hands after handling it to avoid skin irritation.

How do you care for a ZZ plant?

A four-inch Zamioculcas Zamiifolia in a plastic nursery pot is \$\14 at Pistils Nursery.
Above: A four-inch Zamioculcas Zamiifolia in a plastic nursery pot is $14 at Pistils Nursery.
Care of ZZ is simple, making it the gold standard for houseplant beginners, preoccupied office workers, and brown thumbs. The ZZ plant luckily doesn’t need any special type of potting soil: any well-drained potting soil will do. As for feeding it, apply a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer (20-20-20) once a month when watering.

Photograph by @radroots_magazine.
Above: Photograph by @radroots_magazine.

Situate your ZZ in low to bright indirect light, and water when fully dry. Typically you can even forget a watering…or three…and it will still thrive. ZZ is also very resistant to diseases and insects. If your plant’s branches intrude into your space and get in the way, simply prune them away. The plant will potentially flower mid-summer to early autumn but the flowers are quite small and not super attractive, making ZZ mainly a foliage plant.

How can I propagate a ZZ plant?

Photograph by Mokkie via Wikimedia.
Above: Photograph by Mokkie via Wikimedia.

ZZ plants grow from large, thick rhizomes that resemble potatoes. These rhizomes store water, which is why the plant does well during droughts and places where forgetful owners live.

A Zamioculcas is available in three sizes, from six to \10 inches; \$\26.99 to \$9\1.99 at Ottawa Plants.
Above: A Zamioculcas is available in three sizes, from six to 10 inches; $26.99 to $91.99 at Ottawa Plants.

Propagating ZZ is as simple as separating these rhizomes and replanting. Another method is to take a cutting with two leaves and a bit of stem. ZZ grows quicker when more rhizomes or larger rhizomes are grown together.

See more growing tips at ZZ Plants: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Houseplants 101 and Tropical Plants 101. Read about more ways to coddle your collection of houseplants:

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Product summary  

ZZ Plant

ZZ Plant

$11.00 USD from The Sill

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