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Zamioculcas zamiifolia
cultivation & propagation

a "different" Zamioculcas

Cultivation Tips

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In addition to its quite decorative habit, Zamioculcas zamiifolia is widely praised as a virtually ideal indoor plant for its resistance to drought, neglect, dry air, low light conditions, bugs, etc ...

Of course, there's a slight difference between mere survival and prospering, but I think that this plant at least won't hold a fortnight's holiday without water or an odd overwatering against you ...

From my own experience, I'd say that Zamioculcas is grateful for:
  • a bright place; some sunlight for a couple of hours a day won't hurt (morning or afternoon will do)
  • reasonable watering: in general, Zz prefers dry to wet.
    Don't keep it either permanently wet (yellow leaflets may indicate overwatering. The tuber might rot, too), nor bone dry for too long (it might drop leaflets or even entire leaves. Drought resistance means it will survive for some time, but it does not say at what cost. After all, Zamioculcas is an Aroid, not a Cactus ...). - In short: water if it's dry; water cautiosly (if at all) when it's still moist, don't water if it's wet.
    Note: sometimes older leaves are abandoned (i.e. turn yellow) during development of new leaves. Don't panic, that's normal. The inflated base of the leaf stalk will remain alive for some more years and continue to serve as a water reservoir for the entire plant. It won't sprout again, but there's some dormant buds close to its base.
  • some fertilizer once in a while when it is growing (diluted to half or quarter of the recommended concentration). Zz is a rather slow grower by nature. Don't try to speed it up by force.
  • a larger pot when the old one becomes too tight. The tuberous rhizome can become quite large; it tends to spread and to grow towards the light.
  • a resting period with reduced, but not ceased watering in winter and
  • an occasional luke warm shower to remove dust. Wipe it dry afterwards to avoid water stains on the "polished" looking leaflet surface. Do not use leaf gloss.
Zz does not like dropping from the window sill (e.g. when the window is open during thunderstorms with gusty winds); this may result in loss of leaves :-(
Turn the pot from time to time, so new leaves (growing towards the light) won't bring it out of balance. The thick, succulent leaves can become quite heavy.

I can think of scales, thrips, or root nematodes as potential bugs, but as yet, I haven't seen any kind of bugs on a Zz plant.
A plant that has lost
several leaves

© 1995-1998 Krzysztof Kozminski


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Seeds, of course, if available.

Note: As the female flowers are fertile only before the pollen is released, successful polliniation is difficult to achieve with a single plant only. Experiments with conserved (frozen) pollen, or exchange of fresh pollen with other Zz growers might turn out to be helpful in obtaining fruit.

If your plant e.g. drops from a window sill and an entire leaf breaks off, you can:

1) put broken off leaflets into normal potting ground. They will root, develop a tuber and an offset plant (see image) within a year. Be patient. When the leaflet quite suddenly turns brown and dies, look out for the new plant.
You can also use more "sophisticated" techniques, like putting the cuttings into sealed plastic bags or transparent Tupperware® boxes with some sterile rooting medium. This might accelerate propagation; however, it requires more work and attention (and fungicides).

2) cut pieces from the rhachis or from the leaf petiole and put them into normal potting ground. They will root, develop a tuber and a sprout within two years. Be patient.
Note: If you plant it too vertical, the young sprout might happen to grow into the inner side of the (by then rotting) piece of the leave stalk.

3) put the rest of the leaf into a bottle of water. It will swell at its base, develop callus and roots, and then a tuber and a sprout. Take a milk bottle or a jar if you want to be able to get the rooted leaf out again some day without the assistance of a hammer. (A Martini® bottle's neck is too narrow ...). The remaining leaflets will survive until you have persuaded all your friends to have a young Zamioculcas. In case you succeed (in persuading your friends), you can either break off the requested amount of leaflets and continue with 2), or try 4):

4) cut or break the midrib (central vein) of some leaflets of 3) below the middle, but make sure the top part remains connected to the mother leaf. This will supply the cutting with more nutrients than it would have on its own. At the point where the midrib has been interrupted, a small tuber will develop (see image) that will wait until your friends have made up their minds. When the cutting dries up, plant the tuber into a pot, so it can root.
Note: You can also try this method with leaflets on the mother plant (without sacrificing an entire leaf)!

General advice:

- Breaking off is said to be better than cutting. If you cut anyway, use a sharp knife or a razorblade. Pull the blade, don't squeeze. Cut away any damaged, dead or rotting tissue.

- Leave fresh wounds to dry for a day and/or apply charcoal powder (from your pharmacy or from well crushed grilling charcoal) before you put them into water, sand or earth.

- Place 1) to 4) in a bright place with no (or only little) direct sunlight.

- Be patient. Unless it's definitely dead, it can still thrive. If it's dead, check whether it has made an underground tuber that will thrive.

Easy & rewarding to propagate, if you're patient. (Very patient...)

Dropped leaflet with young tuber, producing a sprout. From A. Engler, Das Pflanzenreich IV. 23B. p. 305, Fig. 85 H
Dropped leaflet with young tuber, producing a sprout.
From A. Engler, Das Pflanzenreich IV. 23B. p. 305, Fig. 85 H

Leaflet cutting with young tuber, 1 year old. - 66kB - © 2002 Norbert Anderwald
Leaflet cutting
with young tuber
(upper and lower sides).
The leaflet has dried up;
the tuber is still alive.


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As a member of the aroid family, Zamioculcas should be considered to be (at least slightly) poisonous, even though it is not listed (yet) in any of the (~20) pharmaceutical databases that I've searched so far. The only warning that I've found is in this culture sheet from a nursery:

"The raw stems of Zamioculcas are very poisonous and should not be eaten by people or animals."
© 2000, 2001 Associated Growers, LLC  get Acrobat® Reader®

A. PETER (1928) mentions that the tuber of Gonatopus boivinii is poisonous.

Many Aroids contain oxalic acid and crystals (rhaphides and/or druses) of calcium oxalate in their cell's sap, which make them bitter to the taste and +/- poisonous.
This photo by G. D. CARR from the University of Hawaii at Manoa shows a single calcium oxalate crystal (raphide) from the aroid Dieffenbachia picta. CARR writes (about Dieffenbachia) that "Great numbers of these [rhaphides] are released from storage "packets" into the plant sap when any part of the plant is damaged. They cause severe itching if the sap contacts the skin. If ingested, the mucous membranes are irritated. This can cause temporary loss of voice or reportedly in small children death may result."

The tropical crop taro (the aroid Colocasia esculenta) is fit for human consumption only after cooking, which destroys the calcium oxalate crystals (or other irritant chemical components). Calcium oxalate is e.g. also contained in onions (Allium cepa, Liliaceae s.l./Alliaceae)

This anecdotal account reports of cats that have been chewing on the leaflets of a Zamioculcas plant, which apparently has done more harm to the plant than to the animals. ("... the cats liked to taste it from time to time, but showed no effects of poisoning ...")
Disclaimer: Do not feed Zamioculcas to your cat. It may be harmful in spite of the amateur's report quoted above. Eating it yourself is not recommended either. Note that I am neither a trained medical expert, nor a veterinarian or pharmacologist.

Here's the entrance for aroids from a database of plants that are poisonous to animals. It also describes symptoms of a calcium oxalate poisoning in animals.

Links to some
Gardening Sites

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An article that can be found with few changes on other sites, too; here, the author is credited as well:
"(...) if this plant doesn't fit the bill for indoor use, you may want to consider plastic or silk arrangements."
visit Gene McAvoy, University of Florida, Hendry County Extension
A very similar article:
"While growing plants for over 25 years, seldom have I ever run across a plant that has performed so well indoors with so little care."
visit 1999 article - 2000 follow-up - www.plantcare.com
visit 1999 article - www.zone10.com

A short article in german:
"(...) als Bewohner wechselfeuchter Grasländer des tropischen Ostafrikas ist Zamioculcas zamiifolia relativ anpassungsfähig."
translation: "(...) as an inhabitant of semi-humid grasslands of tropical East Africa, Zamioculcas zamiifolia is quite adaptive."
visit www.livingathome.de
Un fiche de culture en français:
"Plante arborescente à tronc court"
translation: "Arborescent plant with short stem"
visitez © Patrick Klein, TropicaFlore Établissements Horticoles
Note: As a member of the Aroid family (which does not show secondary thickening), Zamioculcas does, of course, not develop a woody stem.

A nursery page:
"ZZ Plant prefers to have 2000 foot candles of light for commercial growing. It has been put in much lower light interior 200 ft. candles and no defoliation has been observed. New growth in low light will not appear as green but retains a beautiful glossy look."
visit Butler's Nurseries
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availability a "different" Zamioculcas
July 9, 2001
open navigation frame last update:
July 27, 2002

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