Always lush ZZ plant is the last word in houseplants

October 24, 2018

Everyone wants the last word, so when American radio evangelist Curtis Howe Springer wanted a name for his spa and retreat in California's Mojave Desert, he made up a name, claiming it to be the very last word in the English dictionary, and the present-day community of Zzyzx was born.

The last word in houseplants just might be the ZZ plant. It was nicknamed the ZZ plant because its botanical name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, was too hard to remember.

Although Zamioculcas zamiifolia was discovered in Africa in the 1800s, it never really caught on until the last few decades. ZZ plant is the perfect plant for the forgetful, as it will live for months on end with absolutely no care.

You may have seen this plant in large public plantings in office buildings or malls, where the always green, always perfect-looking ZZ plant is so unassuming, and needs so little care it could be mistaken for artificial. ZZ plant can live just about anywhere in a home or office – it's that hardy. It even does well under fluorescent lights.

It is quite an unusual plant, with three-foot tall stems that are thick at the base, then taper gracefully to the pointed ends. All up and down the stems are thick, fleshy leaves with a waxy shine to them. Sometimes the same plant will grow straight stems along with stems that arch over. You can leave them be, or cut off errant stems to maintain a full, shapely plant.

ZZ plants grow best in bright to moderate light, but thrive even in near shade. Even though your ZZ plant will tolerate direct sunlight, it may brown some of the leaves, and cause yellowing and curling of the leaves. So anyplace other than direct hot sun should be fine.

ZZ plants really do seem to grow best if you neglect them. They can go months without water; indeed, they need so little water, you should only water them when the soil is dry. About the only thing that will kill a ZZ plant is too much water, which can rot its roots. The amount you water a ZZ plant depends on how much light it gets, so more light means slightly more water. Of course your ZZ plant will grow best with regular, infrequent watering.

The ZZ plant also does well with absolutely no fertilizer, although it grows faster with a light fertilizing. Try using liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength every summer when the plant is actively growing. Sometimes your ZZ plant will actually bloom, with tiny flowers at the base of the plant, often hidden by the leaves.

Beware that every part of the ZZ plant can be toxic, so keep it away from pets and children. Indoor temperatures are fine for the ZZ plant as long as they don't dip below 45°F. You can repot your ZZ plant in early spring using well-draining potting soil. Propagation is through dividing the rhizomes or with leaf cuttings.

For a plant-it-and-forget-it houseplant, you can't do better than the always green, always lush ZZ plant. It is, after all, the last word in houseplants.



  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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