The history of the Zamioculcas

Greetings from Zanzibar!

It’s hard to work out exactly where the name Zamioculcas comes from, but it seems to be a combination of Colocasia and the Zamia fern. Culcas is the old name of the genus Colocasia, and has Zamiifolia leaves that resemble the Zamia fern. The pinnate leaves are characteristic of both plants. If we combine these names, we end up with the Zamioculcas.

Zamioculcas is a stoic sort of plant: it retains its leaves, doesn’t grow rapidly, and is the epitome of stability. Despite the sturdy stems, the Zamioculcas is classified as a herbaceous plant. Its endurance is not so much a result of its woody tissue or that it becomes thicker or heavier, but the veins which retain moisture and nutrients.

The plant’s natural environment is rocky ground in lowlands, or at the foot of the highlands in East Africa. Zamioculcas grows in the wild in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Malawi, and is one of Zanzibar’s natural treasures. The island of Zanzibar has a rich history thanks to shipping, spice cultivation and trade, and has been the meeting point of many different cultures. This colorful background nicely mirrors the equally exotic Zamioculcas.

Zamioculcas as a houseplant

Botanically speaking, the Zamioculcas was identified back in 1892, but has only been popular as a houseplant since the mid-1990s. This current popularity is a result of the efforts of a group of Dutch farmers, who accepted the challenge to cultivate it in 1996.

These ambitious farmers realized that the exotic and distinctive Zamioculcas could be an ideal houseplant. Growing the plant is not actually very difficult: every leaf roots itself when put in soil. However, Zamioculcas plants grow very slowly, so growers have to use all their ingenuity to be able to supply plants within a reasonable timeframe. A warm, moist environment is helpful.

The pinnate leaves of this perennial can grow up to 40 to 60 cm long. The leaves on the thick stems are smooth, shiny and dark green. The plant can bloom, but this rarely happens indoors unless the plant is very neglected, when arum-like flowers grow from the base of the plant.

What should you look for when purchasing Zamioculcas?

Although the Zamioculcas is very resistant to pests and diseases, it is of course important to check these aspects when buying a plant. Plants are classified according to their fronds. If a frond is at least half the length of the longest frond in the plant, it is counted.

It may happen that the plant sometimes has a single yellow leaf, which may be the result of being kept in stock too long, or excessively watered. Black spots on the leaf stalk are normal for this plant, and do not mean there are any problems. The pots of some plants are slightly deformed because of the enormous strength of tubers in the pot. Sometimes, the pots can even rupture and if this happens, repotting is essential.