Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Zamioculcas - A "New" Plant for Indoor Gardeners

Homeowners and interior plantscapers are always on the look out for "new" plants that can be used indoors to provide a different look and growers are always looking at new items to be able to offer their customers something different.  Dozens of new plants are introduced every year. Companies may breed new varieties or locate unusual plants from collectors and then propagate them by the 1000's for public release. These plants are then introduced to the "trade."

The problem with new selections is will they do well indoors?  Is there enough light indoors to bring out the colors, hold the leaves and have the plant look good.  It is easy to introduce just another plant.   The trick is to introduce a plant that the homeowner and plantscaper can use, not one that looks perfect under ideal conditions.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia, which is often marketed as an aroid palm or arum fern is in many ways what the model indoor plant should be.  It has proven to be very durable under less than ideal indoor conditions.  Zamioculcas handles low light well, require minimal watering and endures neglect well.

Zamioculcas has a prehistoric look reminiscent of the cycad from which it derives it's name. The species name "zamiifolia" means "with Zamia-like leaves". Although it is similar in shape to the cycad - "Zamia furfuracea" - also known as the Cardboard Palm,  Zamioculcas is in the aroid family along with the aglaonema,  Calla lily, philodendron, and spathiphyllum.  Zamioculcas is native to Zanzibar and Tanzania.  It has been known in the trade for many years but not until recently was it true potential as an indoor plant recognized.

The base of the stems are swollen to form thick fleshy pinnate stalks from which are produced dark green, naturally glossy elliptic shaped leaves. It's easy to think that the plant has had leaf shine put on it. The zamioculcas blooms with a yellow brown spath, the typical floral type found in the arum family.

One rule that almost all good indoor plants adhere to is that they grow slow.  Zamioculcas is no exception. Growth is slow, but as it grows it suckers from the base and will eventually fill up the pot.

Plants are grown in 4 inch up through 14 inch pots. The average height of most of the plants grown is about 16 - 28 inches, and the plant can have a wide spread on it. Large plants can reach 4' overall with a 4'-5' spread.  It works well as an accent plant in areas where it can "spread its wings".

Zamioculcas is tough and can be grown right along side the sanseveira and aspidistra. A proven performer indoors, it can take very low light, and requires very little water. It also performs well in high light, but will need more frequent watering.

This plant is best kept on the dry side.  The stalks hold water, so don't keep the soil wet.  If watered too much or allowed to sit in water you may find yellowing leaves.  One garden writer claims to have kept an arum fern in his office for 16 months and only watered it six times and it still looked good.

Even though the plant does well in lower light levels, it performs even better it in brighter light. Bright filtered afternoon sun would work well.  Keep the plant away from direct afternoon sun as the plant may sunburn.

The most attractive thing about zamioculcas may not be its toughness, low light ability or low water requirements - but the fact that it seems to have no insect problems, or at least none that anyone has been able to identify to date. Eliminating pest control makes caring for this plant much easier. The plant has left you with only a couple of things to manage - light and water, what could be easier.

Zamioculcas works well as a table top specimen, or as a short floor plant.

It is easy to propagate but develops slowly. Most of the plants are grown from leaf cuttings just as you would a jade plant.  To propagate: insert the leaves stalk side down in moist sand in a sealed plastic container placed in indirect light. The leaves will root, form a tuber and within a year, a new leaf will emerge. At that point, the new plant can be potted up. You will have a nice sized plant in a couple of years.

The downside is that because the aroid palm is slow growing the commercial production has been slow.  Ask your favorite plant outlet about zamioculcas, if this plant doesn't fit the bill for indoor use,  you may want to consider plastic or silk arrangements.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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