Encyclopedia of Houseplants

ZZ Plants are the Pinnacle of Low-Maintenance Houseplants

updated Jun 6, 2020
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(Image credit: Rachel Jacks)

Have low light? Prone to neglecting plants? You can still grow a ZZ plant. These slow-growing, glossy green beauties are often mistaken for fake plants because of their shiny leaves, but unlike the faux versions, they help clean the air indoors. Ready to give one a try? Here’s what you need to know about this low-maintenance, tolerant plant.

About This Plant

The ZZ plant, (or Zanzibar gem) is known by the scientific name Zamioculcas zamiifolia. It hails from eastern Africa, where it is adapted to survive months of drought and low light. The plant’s bulb-like rhizomes store water during dry periods, which is part of what makes it such a resilient houseplant. The ASPCA doesn’t have an entry about ZZ plant toxicity, but other sources indicate that it’s likely poisonous to dogs and cats.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Where to Grow

ZZ plants are healthiest in bright to moderate, indirect light, with temperatures from 65° to 79° F (18° to 26° C). Bright, direct sunlight may result in scalding, curling or yellowing leaves, or leaning of the whole plant away from the light, so if a spot in direct sun is your only option, temper the light with a curtain or blinds. Low light, on the other hand, typically isn’t a problem. The ZZ plant will just tend to grow more slowly with less light, and can reportedly even survive indoors with only fluorescent lights. You don’t generally need to worry about humidity, either, as average indoor humidity is usually fine for the ZZ plant.

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Care and Planting

As with many indoor plants, the biggest killer of ZZ plants is overwatering. If the roots are kept constantly wet, they will rot, killing the plant. This also means that the plant needs good drainage, so plant it in a pot with holes in the bottom, and use a fast-draining succulent or cactus potting mix. (A fellow plant-lover and I were recently sharing our shame over “indestructible” plants we’ve killed, and hers was a ZZ plant, and mine was a spider plant, both of which died from rotted roots due to lack of drainage. Proper drainage is key!) It’s best to err on the side of less when watering this plant, letting the top inch or two of the soil dry out before watering again, approximately every week or two. A guideline to keep in mind is that the plant needs more water the more light it gets, and vice versa. This applies to seasonal light levels, too. With this plant, dropping leaves usually means it’s not getting enough water, while yellowing leaves would indicate too much.

One pitfall to avoid with this plant is the use of “leaf shine” products, which aren’t good for it, and, given its naturally waxy leaves, are really unnecessary.

Fertilizing ZZ plants isn’t required, but if you want to encourage growth, you can give your plant half-strength diluted fertilizer one or two times yearly during the spring and summer growing seasons.

How to Propagate

The fastest and easiest way to propagate a ZZ plant is by dividing the tuberous roots. Remove the plant from its pot, gently separate individual rhizomes, and plant them in their own pots. You can also place whole stalks in water, or individual leaves in soil, and they will eventually form roots of their own, but this is a slow process that can take over a year.