The Zuzu, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, is a succulent native to Zanzibar, Tanzania and other areas of East Africa with dry climates with periods of heavy rain. It is also called the arum fern, aroid palm, eternity plant, fat boy Zanzibar gem and money plant. Zuzus are sold commercially as indoor plants. While zuzus can survive long periods without water, it is an internet myth that they never need watering.
It may be easier to care for a houseplant if you know the conditions the plant naturally grows under. The Zuzu is found in lowland forest, dry grasslands and in rocky, lightly-shaded terrain. It is deciduous; hot, dry periods make it lose its leaves just as cold weather makes deciduous plants in temperate zones drop leaves. When the rainy season arrives, the plant grows new leaves and adjusts to the wetter conditions.
Zuzus grow to be 25 to 30 inches tall. They store water in thick, tuber-like rhizomes. Their leaves are pinnate, meaning that leaflets grow from either side of a single stalk. The leaflets are attached to the stalk by petioles or stems. Six to eight smooth, shiny, dark-green leaflets grow on a thick, fleshy stalk from 16 to 26 inches long. Each leaflet is 2 1/2 to 5 inches long. The thick rhizomes, fleshy stalks and thick leaves all store water, enabling zuzus to survive the long periods of drought normal in their natural habitat. Zuzus do need watering, just not as much as most plants.
A zuzu should be kept above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A range of 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Zuzus have evolved to respond to arrival of the hot, dry season of East Africa by dropping their leaves. If the temperature climbs above 85 degrees, they may begin dropping their leaves. When the leaf falls, a small bulb often forms at the ends of its leaf petiole. This bulb will grow roots to form a new plant.
If you let zuzus sit in water, they will develop root rot and die. They should sit a mixture containing 40 percent sand, 40 percent moisture-control potting soil, and 20 percent Perlite and peat moss. Moisture-control potting soil contains ingredients that store water and make it available to plants when they need it. Peat moss, traditionally used for that purpose, is often replaced boy coir, a product made from coconut husks.
Light and Watering
If a zuzu is grown in dim light, it won’t use much water. If it is grown in bright light, it will need more water. Leaving a plant dry for extended periods will cause it to lose its leaves. To avoid over-watering, let the soil get dry to the touch before watering again.