Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Zanzibar gem


Zamioculcas zamiifolia

(Lodd. et al.) Engl. 1905

pronounced:zam-ee-oh-KUL-hass zam-ee-eye-FOH-lee-uh

(Araceae — the arum family)

subfamily: Zamioculcadoideae

common names: Zanzibar gem, ZZ plant

Zamioculcas received its name in a very roundabout way. It was named for the similarity of its leaves to those of the cycad genus Zamia, which in turn received its name from a misreading of the Latin of the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD). Latinizing the Greek αζανειν (azanein), to dry up, he wrote ‘azaniæ nuces’ in describing ‘pine cones that open on the tree’, and this was mis-copied by a scribe. Zamiifolia merely means ‘with leaves like Zamia’.

This is just about the perfect houseplant, as it can put up with a great deal of neglect. I bought my plant when it was reduced ‘for a quick sale’ soon after Mother’s Day in 2006. I really bought it for the heavy square glass container in which it was growing. The instructions for the care of the plant simply read, ‘Congratulations on your water-wise purchase. This very hardy indoor plant tolerates low light conditions. Summer: Water weekly and fertilize regularly. Winter: Water moderately. Re-pot into a bigger pot after 12 months.’

I decided that I would water it once a week only, rather than the twice a week I water other indoor plants. In its original pot, it could only take a small amount of water without overflowing. It gets a tiny amount of fertilizer in the water occasionally. I also rotate it through 90º occasionally. I did not re-pot after 12 months, as the plant looked quite happy as it was, but after 5 years it was pushing its way up and out of the pot, so I repotted it then. That gave it a new lease of life, and it soon doubled in size.

Zanzibar Gem is often advertised as a ‘new plant’, as it has only been sold commercially since 2000, but it is in fact a very ancient plant, and was first noticed by a botanist in 1905. It comes from eastern Africa, mostly in Zanzibar and Tanzania. It grows up to about 60 cm tall, from a stout underground succulent rhizome.

The leaves are pinnate, 40 – 60 cm long, with 6 – 8 pairs of smooth, shiny, dark green leaflets. The flowers, which are seldom seen in captivity, are produced in a small bright yellow to brown or bronze spadix up to about 7 cm long hidden among the leaf bases. Much to my surprise, in 2015 an inflorescence was produced.

dangerous 2All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested (this fact was not mentioned in the plant description).

Not a great deal is known about the pollination of the plant. As with virtually all aroids, a single insect pollinating species has the task of collecting pollen from the male flowers at the right time, and transferring it to the female flowers on another plant, which are receptive at a later time of the day. It is not known precisely which insect species pollinates Zanzibar Gem.

Both male and female flowers grow on the same spadix, separated by a zone of sterile male flowers. This is designed to prevent self-pollination, but in fact some aroids can self-pollinate. Whether Zanzibar Gem can do so is not known. If Zanzibar Gem is pollinated, brown berries will develop on the spadix. These berries are ellipsoid in shape, and will produce seeds.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009-2015
Page last updated 28th April 2019