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Old 05-17-2010, 09:16 AM
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Is the ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) poisonous?

Please let me start this off with I am well aware some folks on plant forums like this don’t like my posts. I try to share and teach the science of plants, not rumors. When I try to explain some things growers often don’t like to learn what they’ve been lead to believe is a rumor, not fact. If you don’t care about the facts of plants please click the “X” up in the corner right now. You won’t like reading this.

Because I maintain a fairly large website that offers scientific information in what I hope is an easy to understand format I get tons of questions in my email box. Lately the big one is people wanting to know if they touch a ceramic pot containing a ZZ plant (scientifically Zamioculcas zamiifolia) from Africa is it possible to die of severe poisoning. My first answer: hogwash! My first question is “Where did you read this?”

The ZZ plant is an aroid. Aroids are distinguished by the production of a spathe and spadix known as an inflorescence in order to reproduce. The ZZ is found in East Africa and the Internet is completely filled with false information about the plant. It does not grow in a desert; no aroid grows in a desert. It does like water and has a roughly equal period of extreme wet followed by a period of extreme dry. The plant needs regular water.

A new plant can be started from a single leaf by following simple instructions but it does not happen quickly. But most important, neither the ZZ, a Philodendron, an Anthurium and not even the Dieffenbachia are poisonous! I can hear you screaming at me right now! Did you know people around the world eat some aroids including Dieffenbachia on a regular basis? I have eaten many of them and am still quite alive.

All aroids contain calcium oxalate crystals but calcium oxalate is not a poison. It just tastes bad in many cases and in a great enough concentration can cause your mouth and throat to be very irritated. Did you know calcium oxalate crystals are found in Parsley, Chives, Cassava, Spinach, Beet leaves, Carrot, Radish, Collards, Bean, Brussels sprouts, Garlic, Lettuce, Watercress, Sweet potato, Turnip, Broccoli, Celery, Eggplant, Cauliflower, Asparagus, Cabbage, Tomato, Pea, Turnip greens, Potato, Onion, Okra, Pepper, Squash, Cucumbers, Corn and many other vegetables? Promise, that is a scientific fact. Have you ever wondered why kids don’t like spinach? They don’t like the taste of the calcium oxalate!

So how does such junk science as the “pot of a ZZ plant can poison you” get started? People read something they don’t understand and repeat it. Just like a rumor the next person adds some embellishment and so does the next. Finally someone decides to post what they “heard” on the internet and the rumor just grows and grows and grows. Suddenly even the pot of a plant can kill you!

Now for those of you that have stuck with me if you know of a source for this rumor please post it. I serve on the board of the International Aroid Society and have asked the board to find a qualified scientist to write a rebuttal article which we can post on the IAS website I really want to know the sources for this crazy idea and I guarantee they will receive a copy of the IAS article in their inbox.

I promised myself I would not get technical in this post so I’m giving two links you can read if you choose. I don’t expect many to read them. If you want to know the truth about calcium oxalate crystals read my article here:

It quotes scientific sources to explain why this “poison” junk is just a rumor. By the way, I don’t recommend you go take a bite of any of your Philodendron, Anthurium or ZZ plants. They will burn and you won’t like the taste. In very rare cases other chemicals can come into play that may produce a worse effect but a medically substantiated death would be very difficult to prove.

If you grow the ZZ consider reading this one:

That article quotes many scientific sources but I do my best to keep it simple. If your ZZ has been dropping leaves, looks like it is about to die, or is otherwise not performing as you expected I’d bet you’ll find the answer why.

Now, for those of you that may have been offended by my efforts to teach, please forgive me and click the “X” in the upper right corner of your screen


Last edited by ExoticRainforest; 05-17-2010 at 12:40 PM..
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Old 05-17-2010, 09:24 AM
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Location: Lawrenceville, GA / Zone 8
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Hey Steve....great info. I for one did not click that "X" - rofl!!!! I greatly appreciate your help and the fact that you are willing to share your knowledge and experience with us. There is sooo much to learn and that is part of what this great site is about.

Thanks again!!!

KARMA....remember that in life, you get what you give!
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Old 05-17-2010, 10:10 AM
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I didn't see an 'x', but wouldn't click it if I did. Too much misinformation everywhere, not just on the net. Nice to have viable info to rely on.
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Old 05-21-2010, 12:08 PM
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I have been doing even more research in an effort to learn where wild stories like the one that touching a pot may have originated. It is likely this one is a variation of a story going around in SE Asia. I made a post on the International Aroid Society forum Aroid l and asked if any of our botanists had heard such a tale.

Aroid botanist Peter Boyce who works in Malaysia and is one of the most respected botanists living today responded with this: "The best one circulating here in Malaysia is that the pollen alone is enough to cause death in adult humans. I know of NO science whatsoever to back-up these claims."

I also inquired of botanists at several botanical gardens and every one that responded agreed there is nothing in science to confirm any of these tales are valid.

Please don't repeat such a tale just because you read it on the internet. Do your homework!

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Old 05-21-2010, 12:12 PM
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Is it a bulb, a corm or a tuber?

If you have ever wondered what is the difference in a bulb, a corm, a tuber and a rhizome you might enjoy reading this one: Does your plant grow from a bulb, a corm, a rhizome or a tuber?

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