Growing Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Zamioculcas zamiifolia  plant

Zamioculcas zamiifolia in a large ceramic pot

Common names
include ZZ plant, Zanzibar gem, Zuzu plant, aroid palm, eternity plant and emerald palm.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia is the only species in the genus Zamioculcas which belongs to the plant family Araceae which is home to many or our most popular and easy to grow house and garden plants such as Philodendron, Anthurium, Caladium, Epipremnum aureum (pothos), Syngonium, Aglaonema, Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Zantedeschia aethiopica (Arum), Colocasia including the delicious edible Colocasia esculenta known as Amadumbi in South Africa and many others.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a herbaceous perennial growing to 45–60 centimetres tall. The leaves are pinnate, 40–60 cm long, with 6–8 pairs of leaflets 7–15 cm long  that are dark green smooth and shiny. The stems of these pinnate leaves are strongly banded at the base.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia banded leaves

The  leaves of Zamioculcas zamiifolia .

The flowers that are produced from early to mid-summer at the beginning of the new growing season at  the base of the plant are borne on a type of inflorescence called a spadix. The spadix is usually accompanied by, and sometimes partially enclosed in, a spathe or leaf-like bract.
Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a tropical to sub-tropical perennial plant, native to the east African coastal region, from northeastern KwaZulu Natal Province in South Africa where it is found growing in the deep shade of forest in deep nutrient poor alluvial sands covered with a deep layer of leaf litter, to along the coastal belt of Mozambique, Tanzania then on to southern Kenya in the north.
The plants that I have grown for at least 40 years originate from the Kosi Bay area on the northern KwaZulu Natal coast near to the border with Mozambique are in many respects very different to the plants found in commercial cultivation worldwide.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia flowers are produced from early to mid-summer

Zamioculcas zamiifolia flowers with leaves that are strongly banded at the base

Around the mid 1990’s Dutch nurseries started wide-scale, commercial propagation of Zamioculcas zamiifolia as a house plant, from plants originating from or near to Zanzibar on the African mainland.

The Zamioculcas zamiifolia that are grown as house plants are in many respects quite different from the plants found growing naturally in the norther KwaZulu Natal coastal region. They differ in both appearance as well as the ease with which they can be grown.

For instance, the commercially available plants are very forgiving and easy to grow. Here are two quotes gleaned from the internet, “It's a cinch to keep alive so it makes an ideal gift for those with brown thumbs or where an office plant which must put up with periods of drought and fluorescent lights is needed”, “Zamioculcas Zamiifolia or the ZZ Plant is a simple and straightforward houseplant that's ideal for both new and experienced plant parents alike”.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia depending on their origin differ in appearance in that the plants that are commercially available have leaves that are very uniform and opposite in growth with thickened bulbous structures at the base of the leaves and have little to no markings on the leaf stem. They also develop large rhizomatous underground bulbs.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Zamioculcas zamiifolia that are available commercially have these underground tubers

The plants that I have from the Kosi Bay area are quite different in that they do not have evenly placed symmetrically arranged leaves, they have no bulbous thickening at the base of the leaf and they are heavily marked without rhizomatous underground bulbs.

The leaves of the commercially grown plants are a lighter green and are firmly attached  to the main leaf stem, the Kosi Bay form drops its leaves following the lightest touch.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia bulbous thickening at the base of the leaf

Commercially available Zamioculcas zamiifolia with bulbous thickening at the base of the leaf

Whereas the commercially available Zamioculcas zamiifolia are easy to grow and are very forgiving, the southern form from Kosi Bay can be quite a challenge to grow at times, in particular they rot extremely easily if they are placed in a large pot, preferring to be root bound at all times.
Both our local Zamioculcas zamiifolia as well as the commercially available plants need to be grown in a loose well drained growing medium and do not like being over watered. This is strange because I have seen very large stands of Zamioculcas zamiifolia growing in wet tropical peat swamp forest in the eMalangeni forest south of Kosi Bay.

a large stand of Zamioculcas zamiifolia growing in swamp forest

A large number of Zamioculcas zamiifolia growing in tropical peat swamp forest

The most important cultural practice to follow is to never over water your plant or to leave it standing in a drip tray that has collected water in it.
Secondly from my experience I have found that they grow best in a well-drained inert growing medium in as small a pot as the plant can be placed into. I have had good results growing them in fine alluvial sand and placing a thin layer of well-rotted leaf mould compost onto of the growing medium but not mixed into it. When watering nutrients from the leaf mould sustain the plant with essential nutrients just as in nature.

The commercially available plants appear to survive in relative dark in indoor areas of homes and buildings for a while, however they prefer bright light to do their best indoors. My own plants get plenty of indirect light and also get a few hours direct sun in the early morning in the summer months without any negative impacts.
In the landscape, Zamioculcas zamiifolia plant needs to be planted in partial to deep shade in sandy soil with good drainage over which is laid a thick mulch of coarse compost just as they do in nature.

Propagating Zamioculcas zamiifolia
Propagating Zamioculcas zamiifolia can be achieved by simply dividing a mature plant with a sharp knife which is best done just before the beginning of the growing season. They can also be grown easily from leaves and leaf stem cuttings in particular if one wants to produce many plants, but one must have considerable patience because they take a long time to develop into young plants. They grow easily from leaves or stem cuttings that are slightly inserted into a very lose freely draining growing medium. I grow mine in fine alluvial sand with little of no added organic matter with very good results.

For all of my plants I feed frequently using a very dilute amount of a variety of plant feeds such as

EasyGro™ Flower and Fruit
is a 3:1:6(46) water soluble fertilizer, high in concentrations of Potassium ideally suitable for crops during the flowering and fruiting stages.

SEAGRO™ Bio-Fertiliser
Bionutrient with Enhanced Amino Acids. A fish emulsion rich in micro & macro elements and 17 amino acids. Seagro is used as organic fertilizer in agricultural practices for maintenance of crop health. Seagro has a remarkable impact on crop quality as well as yield through the activation of key metabolic processes. Seagro serves not only as a nutrition and stress reliever, but also plays an important role in the vitality of the microbial population in the soil.

Nitrosol Original Biological Fertiliser
is the original formulation developed by Dr. Peter Kauzal, a veterinary surgeon, from ruminant blood and bone. Nitrosol Original has a balanced NPK of 11.5.7 plus trace elements and minerals and recommended for use in all horticultural crops and home garden.

Fulvic acid.
Fulvic acid is group of chemicals formed when plants and animals break down. It is found in the humus (organic matter) part of soil and peat, and is also found in streams and lakes.
Fulvic acid benefits of increases root respiration and formation,enhance plant growth and yield. Humic fulvic acid can enhances pH buffering capacity, enhances photosynthesis and respiration, increases cationic exchange.
Brings about an improvement in the transport of nutrients, making them available in the areas of need. Increases the synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids, which will facilitate the action of enzymes formed with some amino acids and micro-nutrients.



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This page was  created on  18.02.23
This page was last updated on 18.02.23