ZZ plant is a relative newcomer to our houseplant menu.
It is not often found in displays at the big box stores or in the floral department of a grocery or discount store, but is typically available at greenhouses and garden centers that handle a good selection of houseplants.
ZZ is short for Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Tough and forgiving, practically indestructible and adaptable to nearly any home environment.
Plants resemble a bold, coarse fern. Individual, unbranched stems are lined with glossy, deep green leaves. It’s an architectural plant whose form or profile is one of its most distinctive qualities.
Choose a unique container, something with character that suits the décor of your room, has no drainage holes and is just a size or two larger than the plain nursery pot that your ZZ plant is growing in. You’ll use the decorative pot for display and to protect surfaces. When the plant gets potbound you can just transplant to a larger nursery pot. The decorative container can be switched out when you’re ready to redecorate.
Zamioculcas was first identified by botanists in the early 1800s, in drought-prone regions of eastern Africa. It was the late 1900s, however, before Dutch nurseries in Africa decided it would make an excellent houseplant and began propagating it for the horticultural trade. It looks a bit like a primitive cycad or sago palm, but is actually a close relative of more familiar houseplants peace lily, Chinese evergreen and philodendron.
Adapted in nature to long periods without rain, as a houseplant one can go a long time without watering. To start, check it once a week, and when the top inch or two of soil feels dry to the touch, it’s time to water. Take it to the sink and pour water slowly over the soil surface until water begins to run out the drainage holes in the pot. Let it rest for a half hour or so, and repeat, then return to its display location.
After a while you’ll know how often your plant will need watering in your home conditions — though you’ll want to keep in mind that conditions change as we switch from furnace to open windows to air conditioning. If you forget to water it for a few weeks, or a month, or more, you might notice some yellowing leaves. Give it a good drink and it will recover quickly.
Put one in a room with little natural light, or an office with fluorescent or LED lights during business hours, and it will behave almost like an artificial plant — staying green and healthy, but not growing. In a spot with bright, indirect light, the plant will grow. Save your brightest windows for other plants, as direct sunlight can be too much for a ZZ plant, causing the leaves to scorch and lean away from the light.
With regular water and ideal light, ZZ plant will grow taller and send up new leaves to become full and bushy. Even so, they max out at about three feet. Size of the plant is also affected by the size of the container; it will stay smaller if you don’t repot to a larger container.
Wipe down the leaves occasionally with a damp cloth to remove dust and maintain shine. This will help the plant use light efficiently and look its best.
Do note that like many popular houseplants, ZZ is not edible, and can make pets or young children sick if they eat it. Keep it, and all houseplants, out of their reach, and wear gloves when handling if you have sensitive skin.