Guide for Thriving ZZ Plants

3 Sep 2021

The ZZ plant, although a relatively new houseplant, is one of the most sought-after indoor plants. This stunning, easy-to-care-for, and resilient houseplant is perfect for your office or home, and it’ll keep you company for many years to come.

This article will tell you how to care for your ZZ plant, how to propagate and/or revive it, as well as tips to ensure that your plant prospers.

Main Characteristics

The ZZ plant’s scientific name is zamioculcas zamiifolia, and only became acknowledged as a houseplant in 1996, all thanks to the Dutch nurseries in South Africa who cultivated it.

It belongs to the Araceae family and is native to Eastern Africa. The zamioculcas zamiifolia goes by many names, such as the Zanzibar gem, emerald palm, and eternity plant. It gets these nicknames from its beautiful green emerald-like colored leaves, and its resilience to withstand drought.

Fun fact: there’s a new variety of the zamioculcas zamiifolia, called the ‘zamioculcas zamiifolia raven’ or raven ZZ plant for short.

The following are key characteristics of this radiant houseplant.

How Big Do They Get?

In suitable conditions, the ZZ houseplant’s stem can grow up to 3 to 4 feet (91 – 122cm), while its glossy leaves typically grow around 3 to 5 inches (7.6 – 12.7cm) in length.

How Fast Do They Grow?

In optimal conditions, the zamioculcas zamiifolia produces 6 to 8 new stems per year during the spring and summertime. The houseplant’s new shoots generally grow 6 to 12 inches (15.2 – 30.5cm) during its active growing seasons.

It usually takes 3 to 5 years for the new stems to reach their mature size and fully grow.


The Zanzibar gem when effectively cared for has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.

Are They Toxic?

This houseplant is toxic to pets and humans. The Zanzibar gem belongs to the Araceae family; many houseplants part of this family, such as the peace lily, are considered toxic because they produce calcium oxalate.

Let’s discuss what will happen to your pets or yourself when coming into contact with the plant.

Cats and Dogs

When your pet comes into contact with this plant, its eyes, mouth, and nose will become inflamed. If one of your beloved pets eats any part of the plant, they’ll experience a stomachache, diarrhea, and may vomit.

Diarrhea and vomiting can lead to your little friend becoming dehydrated, so ensure that they drink ample amounts of water to stay hydrated.

These symptoms are only temporary and will subside, however, if you are concerned, please contact your vet.


Humans, especially children, should not come into contact with this houseplant’s sap. A red, itchy, and occasionally painful rash may appear on the skin which was exposed to the sap.

If it gets into your eyes, they may start to itch, become watery, red, and may burn. The ingestion of any part of it may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and some tearing of the tongue or throat if swallowed.

Keep the Zanzibar gem out of children’s reach. When handling it yourself make sure to wear a pair of gardening gloves to be on the safe side.

Although this houseplant is toxic to humans it does have its benefits, check out the fact below.

Fun fact: The zamioculcas zamiifolia is an amazing natural air purifier. It has been found to remove toxins, such as xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air.

ZZ plant - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

How to Care

The proper care is important if you want your zamioculcas zamiifolia to flourish. Below are tips and guides on how to effectively care for it.


The zamioculcas zamiifolia is designed to withstand prolonged periods without water and is drought tolerant, as its bulbous rhizome stores water. It’s used to dry conditions as it is native to Eastern Africa, so only water it when the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5cm – 5cm) of the potting mixture is completely dry.

During its active growing seasons in the spring and summertime, water it every 1 to 2 weeks. It only needs to be watered once a month during the cool winter and autumn seasons.


Just like our friend the ponytail palm, the Zanzibar gem also requires good drainage to survive and thrive. A well-draining soil mix and pot will ensure that it doesn’t sit in water and become soggy.

Commercial succulent or cactus potting mixes are perfect for this houseplant. To aerate your soil, try adding some perlite, peat moss, or sharp sand. The soil mix should be dry, so it doesn’t retain too much moisture. This will lessen the chances of root rot.

A drainage hole is super important. Your pot should have a hole at the bottom to allow for water to drain out. A saucer should be placed underneath the pot to catch all the water and prevent any damage to your windowsill, table, or furniture.

Top tip: Try adding gravel in your soil mix to allow for water to easily flow off the roots and drain out the bottom of the container.

How to Prune

Pruning won’t improve this houseplant’s growth, but it may be necessary to remove diseased leaves, dead foliage, or reshape it.

Always sterilize your garden trowel, knife, or pair of scissors by wiping the blade with rubbing alcohol. Remember to put on a pair of gardening gloves to avoid skin irritation and inflammation.


Typically, the Zanzibar gem only needs to be transplanted every 2 years. The houseplant isn’t a speedy grower, so repotting is only necessary when it’s root-bound.

You can tell if it’s root-bound when the roots are growing through the drainage hole. This means that your plant needs a larger container, about 1 size up. Be careful to transplant it in an adequately sized pot, if it is too large then you risk root rot occurring.

It is best to repot your houseplant during spring or summer so that it has time to grow and settle before winter.

Let’s take a look at these steps to repot it with ease.

  1. Gently slide your plant out by loosening the potting mix, this can be done by moving a sterilized knife around the edge of the container.
  2. Remove any excess soil by scraping it away with your hand, or by rinsing it under a stream of water.
  3. Use your clean garden trowel or pruners to cut back any damaged or diseased root tissue.
  4. Fill your new pot one-third of the way with good draining soil. Make sure that the base of the stem will be about 1 inch (2.5cm) below the lip of the pot.
  5. Place your plant in the pot, fill it up with soil until the base of the stem.
  6. Water the houseplant thoroughly, allowing it to flow out the drainage hole.
  7. Place your plant in a warm, sunny position where it’ll receive indirect sunlight, and then continue to care for it as you would a mature houseplant.


Light Requirements

This houseplant much like the prayer plant enjoys plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. It can survive in shade but it’s unlikely to grow, however direct sunlight will cause harm and burn the foliage.


The number one rule for this houseplant is that the soil must allow for adequate drainage. The zamioculcas zamiifolia does not appreciate soggy or moist conditions, as this will cause root rot. An aerated and light potting mix will allow for sufficient nutrient and water flow.

To improve the drainage of your soil, add some perlite or sand into the potting mix. An addition of peat moss is also great to enhance drainage.

Try out this soil mixture with 3 parts potting soil, 1 part succulent or cactus mix, and a handful of compost to increase the amount of nutrients.


The zamioculcas zamiifolia stores all of its nutrients in its roots, so it only requires feeding once a month during its active growing seasons. Your emerald palm will thrive with either 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 balanced liquid fertilizer during the spring and summertime.

The zamioculcas zamiifolia doesn’t need to be fertilized during the chilly winter and autumn months.

Make sure that you don’t over-fertilize your houseplant. It won’t enhance its growth but may actually damage its foliage or root system.

A quick tip: Fertilize your houseplant during its watering time to avoid fertilizer burn.

Pot Size and Type

The size of the container your Zanzibar gem requires depends on how large or small it is. A simple rule of thumb is that the pot’s diameter should be 2 inches (5cm) larger than the rhizome.

If your plant’s roots are rootbound and touching the sides of the pot, then a bigger container is required. The new pot should be 2 to 4 inches (5cm – 10cm) bigger than the previous container.

The emerald palm is not picky and can survive inside most pots as long as the soil and sunlight are suitable.

Top tip: To allow for the soil to dry faster and prevent soggy conditions, a terracotta pot is ideal as it absorbs more moisture.


The zamioculcas zamiifolia flourishes in an environment with a temperature of 60 to 75°F (15.5 – 24°C), but will not survive in a temperature lower than 45°F (7°C).


It is not fussy when it comes to humidity. The average house humidity level will do just fine. To be precise relative humidity of 40% is optimal for this plant, but if the air is extremely dry then simply use a cool-mist room humidifier.

Additionally, it should not be positioned under or near an air vent as this may dry out the leaves causing them to brown.

Indoors vs. Outdoors

The houseplant can survive and grow outdoors, however only in certain areas and environments. If you live in a cooler area, then keep it inside.

It isn’t called the eternity plant for nothing. It is resilient and can prosper outdoors in USDA Grow Zones 10 to 12, as long it’s not in direct sunlight.

ZZ plant - care, water, sunlight, soil, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)


The zamioculcas zamiifolia is an herbaceous perennial, just like the African violet, however, it does not regularly flower, if at all.

It is actually considered a flowering plant but unfortunately, it’s extremely rare for it to bloom. In the case that it does flower, you will see either a small bright yellow, brown, or bronzed color flower at the base of the leaves. Flowering will only occur during mid-summer to early autumn.


We will delve into the various methods of soil and water propagation with guides so that you can add more emerald palms to your collection or grow the perfect gift.

Just before we begin, there are a few basics that you should follow:

  1. When cutting a stem or leaf it’s imperative that the blade, scissor, or garden trowel is sterilized. You can do this by cleaning the blade with a rubbing alcohol mix.
  2. Additionally, remember to wear gardening gloves when handling the plant.
  3. If propagating in soil, the potting mixture used should be aerated with good drainage, such as a succulent potting mix or one of the mixtures we mentioned earlier under ‘Soil’.

In Soil

There are three ways to propagate your zamioculcas zamiifolia; leaflets/leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, and by division. Each has some simple steps to follow, which will be set out below.

From Leaflets (Leaf Cuttings)

  1. Cut off 3 to 4 leaves as close to the base as possible, making sure a bit of the leaf’s stem is still attached.
  2. Use a small transparent container filled with a potting mixture.
  3. Place the stems an inch (2.5cm) deep into the potting mix.
  4. Water the leaves, so that the soil can soak it up. Be wary to keep the soil moist and not too soggy.
  5. Seal the pot with a clear plastic bag to retain moisture.
  6. Position your leaflets in warm, indirect sunlight by a windowsill.

In about 2 to 3 months new roots will begin growing from the stem of the leaves, and you will find out if the propagation was successful.

From Stem Cuttings

  1. Use a clean pair of scissors or garden trowel to cut a stem from the mother plant. The stem should be at least 2 inches (5cm) long with some waxy, healthy leaves on top.
  2. Place the stem cutting in a warm area for at least 3 hours, so that the cut end callouses over. This will decrease the chances of root rot occurring.
  3. Prepare a new container with some well-draining soil, and put your stem cutting into the container.
  4. Water it generously, until the water flows through the drainage hole.
  5. Position the pot in a windowsill where it’ll receive plenty of warm, bright, indirect light.

The Zanzibar gem will take a few months until its roots start to show.

From Division

It should only be divided or separated every few years once it has fully grown so that you can propagate 2 or 3 new zamioculcas zamiifolia. Dividing the plant when it’s too small can result in some damage.

  1. To start, you should prepare 2 or 3 smaller containers with a hole at the bottom, to allow for adequate drainage. Fill these pots with a medium succulent or cactus potting mix.
  2. Gently remove the mother plant from its pot by sliding it out on its side. If the soil requires some loosening, simply slide a knife along the pot’s perimeter.
  3. Remove the excess potting mix from the root ball with your hands, and cut off those little shriveled or rotten roots away.
  4. Take a look at the root ball to determine a few natural points of division, so you only make a few cuts to separate the roots of the new plants.
  5. Carefully cut through the root ball and rhizome.
  6. Finally, pot them in their new homes with fresh potting soil, and water the pots until the soil is moist.
  7. Care for your plant as you would a mature zamioculcas zamiifolia.

In Water

Propagating in water is fairly simple and easy to do, it can be done by using leaflets or stem cuttings, just follow the steps below.

From Leaflets (Leaf Cuttings)

  1. For the best chances of propagating, cut 3 or 4 green leaves with their little stems attached.
  2. Fill a few small clean transparent glasses or even shot glasses with clean water.
  3. Put your leaves into the glasses, and stabilize them with either a toothpick or a paperclip.
  4. Position the leaves in a sunny, warm area where they’ll receive ample indirect light.
  5. Make sure to replace the water once a week to protect the leaves from algae buildup.

It may take anywhere between 6 to 9 months before new rhizomes begin to show.

From Stem Cuttings

  1. Cut off a 2 inch (5cm) stalk at the base of the mother plant with a clean cutting tool.
  2. Allow the stem cuttings to callous over by laying them in a warm area for at least 3 hours.
  3. Get a clean glass, and fill it halfway with some clean water, and place the stem cuttings inside the glass.
  4. Place your cuttings in a windowsill where they will thrive in indirect sunlight.
  5. To avoid any damage or disease, change the water every 7 to 14 days.

It will grow roots and can be repotted into the soil in about 2 months.


If you notice that your Zanzibar gem’s appearance may be different or its leaves have changed in color, there may be something going on beneath the surface. Let’s take a look at diseases that can affect your houseplant and how to revive it.

Lower Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellow leaves may indicate that your houseplant is either being overwatered or its leaves are old.

It is completely normal for older foliage to turn yellow, simply remove these leaves.

If many leaves become yellow, you are most likely overwatering your houseplant. To prevent this, cease watering it immediately and wait until the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5cm – 5cm) of the potting mix is completely dry.

Leaf Tips Turning Brown

When the tips of the Zanzibar gem’s leaves are browning, it is due to low humidity or underwatering.

Reviving your plant is simple. If underwatering is the case, water your pot until you see water flowing out the drainage hole, and in the case of dry air, all you need to do is mist the leaves with cool water.

Leaves Falling Off

There are two potential reasons that your zamioculcas zamiifolia’s leaves may be falling out. It is either being over- or underwatered.

If your houseplant is overwatered, simply cease watering until the 1 to 2 inches (2.5cm – 5cm) of the topsoil is dry.

To revive your underwatered Zanzibar gem, water it until it flows out the bottom of the container.

Root Rot

Root rot is common and is caused by overwatering or poor drainage. Your plant may lean to one side, have a soft stem, and its rhizome will become mushy and brown.

Remember to make sure that the soil is dry in between watering.

To improve drainage, try adding sharp sand or gravel to your potting mixture and choose a container with a drainage hole. To avoid soggy conditions, check that the saucer underneath your pot is empty.

Let’s Quickly Recap

The zamioculcas zamiifolia is an absolutely stunning houseplant, and the best part is that it’s easy to care for, and very resilient.

For it to thrive, remember to only water it when the soil is dry, place it under indirect light, and do not over-fertilize it.

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