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Master Gardener Journal  

A S K   A   G A R D E N E R

by Judy Curtis,
Master Gardener

I recently bought a ZZ plant. How do I take care of it? It was quite expensive, and I don't want to kill it.

ZZ Plant Zamioculcas zamiifolia, or the ZZ plant, is one of the hottest new items in the houseplant world, although it has been around so long that it is one of our living fossils. It is in the Aroid family, along with philodendrons and anthuriums, and hails from the dry grasslands and rocky soils of Tanzania and Zanzibar (some more "Z" words). A fern with an attitude is a good description of its appearance. The tuberous root, thick stem, and fleshy, deeply-lobed leaves all store water, making it a three-way succulent and therefore extremely drought tolerant. One grower says he has one in his office that he has watered only six times in sixteen months, and it is doing beautifully. The rave reviews this plant has been getting seem almost too good to be true. Here is what they are saying:

  • It flourishes in low or high light locations.
  • It grows slowly to 4 feet and puts out suckers from the base to fill in the pot.
  • Propagation is easily done from leaf cuttings.
  • Pests are not a problem.
  • It thrives on neglect.
What more could we ask? It seems the only wrong thing you can do is to over water it. They are on the pricey side because they are new and grow so slowly. The Desert Botanical Garden plant shop has some about 2 feet high in the $50 range. I expect we will be seeing a lot more of them.

They can be confused with another living fossil in the cycad family, Zamia furfuracea, known as the cardboard palm. It comes from coastal areas in Mexico and is also reputed to be a tough indoor plant. Check your labels to make sure you are purchasing the one you want.

Photography: Candice Sherrill

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
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