An Ode to a very handsome (and almost indestructible) house plant

Can we all stop for a second and think more about “plants”, please?

Yes, plants. Those (mostly) green leafy creatures that branch out reaching for the sun, have their feet into the soil and the only thing they ask for is water (well, more or less). Today I want to celebrate an “ordinary” house plant, which you probably already have in your home or you will go and get one after reading this article (I am boasting, I know).

Here it is, the handsome, chubby, dark green, strong… Zamioculcas zamiifolia!

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Yesterday I repotted my Zamioculcas and I couldn’t stop noticing how I felt intrigued by the colour of the leaves and the overall silhouette of the plant. I also admitted to myself that I have been neglecting this plant for the past year. I decided then to dedicate a full article to Zamioculcas plants, just to make it up!

So, standing ovation for our ZZ here!

I got to know this plant for the first time a few years ago when I was plant-sitting in Amsterdam for my travelling friend Mary. I was not into houseplant back then and I knew nothing about plant caring (well, I have two degrees in Forestry but it’s not the same, trust me). My friend was very clear about her plants and I remember her telling me “this guy here, half glass of water if you remember, otherwise it does not matter” (che tanto l’è steso, come se dise a Verona).

Today, I still apply this sophisticated method to my ZZ plant. (By the way, my friend ended up doing Yoga in Costa Rica, if you want to visit her).

Let me give you some useful information about this plant:

Zamioculcas zamiifolia (or Zanzibar gem, or ZZ plant and many other names) is the only species belonging to the genus Zamioculcas of the Araceae family, and if it’s so popular and common nowadays it is because the Dutches started large scale propagation for commercial use in the 1990s.

It is a bulbous, succulent, evergreen plant native of Eastern Africa, from Kenya to South Africa. Much appreciated for the beauty of its fleshy, lanceolate, pinnate leaves (called leaflets) which are intense green and also very shiny. The natural environment of the plant consists of dry grassland and lowland forests on rocky lightly shaded terrain where there are long periods of drought, interrupted by torrential rains. During the rains, the plant quickly stores water in its bulb so that it can survive for weeks afterwards. This plant does not like cold temperature (not below 18° C ideally).

Besides being beautiful, Zamioculcas is also good for you!

This plant has been utilized as traditional medicine in Africa: Malawian use the leaves of Zamioculcas as earache on children and the roots are used for treating gastric problems by Sukuma people in Tanzania. The root extract of ZZ is apparently a source of antioxidant. Furthermore, Zamioculcas works very well as an air purifier in your room. It has the potential to reduce the concentration of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (commonly used as a solvent for lacquers, paint and rubber cement) from contaminated indoor air.

If you will give it enough light and water, your ZZ can become as big and beautiful as this one! (Plant and picture from Marlies van Hal)

Ok cool! You say it’s beautiful, it’s useful… but

How do I care for my Zamioculcas?

If you have a ZZ at home, you have probably figured it out by yourself, even if you are a plant killer. Because, honestly, this shiny/fatty plant is the easiest to care that I can think of.

If instead, you are thrilled to get one soon, here I come to you with some tips for caring of your green friend.

The main principle is: find a nice spot where to place the plant and FORGET about it.

Going a little bit more into details: once you come back home with your newbie, you may want to repot into a bigger container. The most important thing is that it’s a pot with holes at the end, to eliminate excess water. Use a normal potting soil, or ideally the same for cactus. Before putting the soil, I usually place at the bottom of the pot some clay pebbles to keep the all business well aerated. 

If you want to care extra for your plant, you can use a fertilizer for succulents once a month between April and September.

My ZZ getting some morning sun

Light: every plant likes the sun, but some plants evolved in a way to tolerate less light availability. This is the case with our friend here. Therefore look for a place in the house that doesn’t get too much direct sunlight. Every plant care guide will tell you things like “place it in a bright space with plenty of indirect sunlight” (it works almost for all plants).

Honestly, I have so many plants at home that there is not enough space left with “indirect bright light” and, in the Netherlands, sunlight is precious! Therefore I placed three years ago my ZZ in a relatively dark spot, next to the only window in my attic bedroom which gets some timid direct light in the morning. So far so good.

This does NOT mean you can put your ZZ in your windowless bathroom. Light is still important and it will encourage the growth of your plant.

How do I understand when is the perfect moment to water my ZZ?

I warmly suggest you use this ultimate last-generation tech- tool: your finger.

It’s important that you water your beauty once the top layer of the soil is completely dry. Stick your cute finger inside the pot, be sure to go quite deep, let’s say 6-7 cm? (How long is your finger?).

If the soil is dry: go for it and bless your ZZ with a good amount of water. Let the excess water drain out of the pot before putting it back into the vase. Don’t leave your ZZ with that dirty water at the bottom of your vase; it is not good for the plant and neither for you because it attracts fungus gnats. If, instead, the soil is still wet, leave it and come back tomorrow… or next week. In general, ZZ wants water once a week or every 10 days. Also, consider this: more light and higher temperature mean that the plant needs more water.

Tip: if your ZZ is dropping leaves is probably because you are not watering it enough. Too low amount of water causes the plant to go dormant and lose the leaves.

In conclusion, really, you should have at least one Zamioculcas in your home. It’s like having a good ally who does things for you and asks very little in return!

And with this, I end my Ode to this beautiful plant.

Let me know if you have questions in the comments below, or if you want to send a picture of your beautiful Zamioculcas I will be happy to share it on my page (we could start the trend #ZZfanclub)


MUHARINI, Rini; MASRIANI, Masriani; RUDIYANSYAH, Rudiyansyah. Phytochemical screening, antioxidant, and cytotoxicity of Zamioculcas zamiifolia root extract. Indonesian Journal of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 2018, 1.2: 62-67.

SRIPRAPAT, Wararat; THIRAVETYAN, Paitip. Phytoremediation of BTEX from indoor air by Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 2013, 224.3: 1-9.

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