Habitat: Tanzania, Zanzibar island and Kenya, in tropical forest or savannahs.
Cultivation: Use a well-drained but rich in nutrients substrate, put it in a bright spot but not under direct sunlight, water regularly in Spring and summer and stop watering in Winter.
Curiosity: In Italy, Zamioculcas zamiifolia is related to a very important saint called Father Pius. The legend says that he used to keep one of them in his cell. Nevertheless, this story is not so reliable as Father Pius died in 1968 and the Zamioculcas has been introduced in Europe in 1998.
Zamioculcas is an ornamental plant native to Zanzibar island and Tanzania, in East Africa, now appreciated all over the world and used as a houseplant for its remarkable decorative potential and its extreme tolerance to different environmental condition (including inexperienced gardeners!). Its habitat consists of semi-desert areas with a climate characterized by a sharp division between rainy and dry seasons. These are savannas or himid, tropical forest. In Europe, it has been introduced only in 1998. The genus “Zamioculcas” is actually monospecific, that is to say that it has only one species: Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Being very widespread as an ornamental plant all over the world, Zamioculcas zamiifolia has several “nicknames”, such as “the eternity plant”, (a name it has earned due to the fact that it is technically immortal, no matter how bad you are at gardening), or “the ZZ plant”, “zee zee plant”, “aroid palm”, because it belongs to the Araceae family and looks like a palm, and “zanzibar gem”.
Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a perennial, succulent plant, that forms a bunch of succulent stems adorned with glossy, green leaves which are tidely lined up in two opposite series on the stems. Its appearance does not change much with the seasons: its decorative potential is mainly expressed by the leaves, with their dark green colour and their glossy, waxy surface, and by its global structure. Z. zamiifolia, in fact, rarely blossoms in cultivation conditions. You may never see its flowers. What we have previously called stems are actually the leaves: this plant is actually acaulescent (which is “stemless”, in botanic language). Instead, it is equipped with a modified, subterranean stem called “rhizome”, which is rather thick and fleshy and looks like a potato. It has the function to store nutrients and water during the dry season and it’s what makes this plant so tough. This kind of peculiar leaves, instead, is called “once-pinnate” in botany: this is the term to refer to leaves that actually consist in a stem-like structure that bears many so-called leaflets. Here, the leaflets are elliptical and, as above mentioned, covered by a glossy layer in their surface. In the dry season, leaflets fall and their elongated petiol withers. During the following rains, new buds sprout from the ground, formed by the enlarged rhizome. Also, the leaves may root and form a new plant.
From mid-summer to early autumn, rarely, Zamioculcas zamiifolia blooms. Its inflorescence is the typical one of the Araceae: the spadix. This is a spike of minute flowers closely arranged round a fleshy axis and typically enclosed in a spathe (a modified, variously coloured leaf). To better imagine this kind of inflorescence you can think to the flower of the Arum lily, that is a typical spadix: the yellow part is the actual spadix, while the white part is the spathe. In the case of Zamioculcas, the spadix is brown or bronzed, 5 to 7 centimeters long, partially hidden among the leaves. After the flower withers, a white berry with 1 or 2 seeds is formed.
VARIETY AND TYPES
Zamioculcas is a monospecific genus and has only one species: Zaioculcas zamiifolia.
TIPS FOR GROWING
Zamioculcas zamiifolia is not a fussy: it’s instead super-tough and survives even if you forget to water it for weeks. Here below are our cultivation tips:
- Put it in a bright spot, though not exposed to direct sunlight, that may burn the leaves. Some direct sunlight is okay during early morning and late afternoon.
- Z. zamiifolia is a tropical plant and should be kept indoors in temperate climate Winters: it in fact doesn’t bear temperatures below 15ºC. Its ideal temperature is between 17 and 26ºC. Also, hotter temperatures may enhance leaves production.
- Water regularly during the growing season, which is Spring and Summer in temperate areas. Once or twice a week according to air temperature will be okay. In Winter, instead, or during dormancy in general, watering must be suspended, unless the plan will probably go through root rotting. Always wait for the soil to dry completely up before each irrigation.
- During the growing season, fertilize your Zamioculcas with a specific product for succulent, diluting it at half the doses written on the label.
- Provide your Zamioculcas with a well-draining soil, free from limestone.
- Repotting is necessary every 1-2 years, anytime you see that the plant outgrows its pot.
The propagation of Zamioculcas is carried out thorugh leaf cuttings or division. You can either use the leaflets as cuttings and plant them into fresh soil. The substrate should be maintained moist until they put roots. The leaflet you’ve used as a cutting will soon wither after rooting, but some bulb-lke structures will be formed. Also, new individuals can be obtained through the division of the bulbous rhizome in more parts.