Skip to main content

Do ZZ plants cause cancer? Here’s the definitive answer

ZZ plants can be toxic to people and pets, but this is usually mild

ZZ plant
Nicolas Solerieu / Unsplash

The ZZ plant is a terrific option for those in need of a new leafy companion that isn’t picky about watering or maintenance. But if not handled properly, the ZZ plant can be toxic to people and pets. In fact, rumors have circulated in some corners of the Internet that ZZ plants cause cancer. If you’re a ZZ plant owner or are thinking about investing in a ZZ plant, do you have cause to worry? What are the precautions you can take to ensure that you, your children, and your animals stay safe? Here’s everything you need to know about the ZZ plant, its toxicity profile, and how to maintain it safely.

A ZZ plant on the floor

ZZ plant care: The basics

Although these plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight, they are of several indoor plant varieties that can thrive in lower lighting conditions. They are also highly resistant to drought and forgiving of owners who forget to water or are away from the home or office for extended periods of time. Ideally, you should water ZZ plants every week, but they can survive for longer without water. Overwatering can cause the roots to rot, so make sure your setup provides effective drainage.

ZZ plant next to a dog
Jaclyn Vernace/Shutterstock

ZZ plant toxicity

The ZZ plant is toxic. According to experts at Iowa State University, sharp calcium oxalate crystals within the plant’s sap are toxic and irritating to people and animals who make physical contact with or ingest any part of the plant. That said, you would need to ingest an awful lot of the plant in order for it to become a serious medical issue. Irritation is usually mild. Still, skin can become irritated if it comes in contact with the plant. Ingestion may lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain. Symptoms typically last for a few hours, but in unusual cases, can be more severe or prolonged.

Woman watering ZZ plant
Ground Picture / Shutterstock

Do ZZ plants cause cancer?

Although rumors have persisted over the years that the ZZ plant has carcinogenic effects, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support this claim. Think about it: If ZZ plants had been found to increase the risk of cancer, what are the chances they would still be widely available for purchase? It’s unclear how or where this rumor originated, but this misconception is just that — a misconception. There’s nothing to fear! ZZ plants do not cause cancer.

Wearing gloves to care for ZZ plant
iSOMBOON / Shutterstock

Stay safe with your ZZ plant

A few simple steps can help you safely keep a ZZ plant in your home, even with pets and children in the mix.

Tips for safely caring for your ZZ plant include:

  • Wearing gardening gloves when handling the plant extensively.
  • Washing your hands and tools after handling the ZZ plant.
  • Keeping ZZ plants out of reach of pets and children. (If needed, you can spray your ZZ leaves with neem oil or add coffee grounds to the soil, as these odors are off-putting to animals.)

If a pet or child ingests the plant and is ill after a few hours, call your veterinarian or pediatrician.

Raven zz plant
Przemyslaw Zielinski/Shutterstock

ZZ plant benefits

We’ve talked extensively about the potential dangers of ZZ plants, but what are some of their benefits? Clearly, their low-maintenance care is a pro, since they have low watering and light needs. Their glossy leaves also offer aesthetic appeal with their elegant arching growth — some attractive varieties include the raven ZZ and the variegated ZZ. Plus, ZZ plants are quite simple to propagate since you can split up the rhizomes or take cuttings. And like many houseplants, they may help with air purification.

The ZZ plant is great for people seeking a tough, versatile indoor plant. While the plant is toxic, it only has mild and short-lived effects. There are rumors that ZZ plants cause cancer, but no evidence exists to support those claims. With a few basic precautions, you can grow your ZZ plant with confidence and safely enjoy it for years to come.

Editors' Recommendations

Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health…
Now that it’s more common, here’s how to care for your sought-after Thai Constellation Monstera
How to grow one of these coveted houseplants
Thai Constellation Monstera

During the early pandemic days, the Thai Constellation Monstera was one of the most coveted cultivars of the humble Monstera deliciosa. Now, houseplant enthusiasts can more readily find this striking plant at lower costs, whether it's at a grocery store or a local nursery. Despite its gaining popularity, you might still have questions about the Thai Constellation Monstera plant. Not to worry — here's all that you need to know about what this plant is and how you can grow it in your lush indoor garden.

What is the Thai Constellation Monstera, and what makes it so special?
Along with the Monstera deliciosa's eye-catching fenestrations, the Thai Constellation plant features gorgeous mottled leaves with a touch of creamy variegation. The Thai Constellation cultivar is relatively difficult to grow, which was why it was such a rare and expensive plant for so long — just a few years ago, a handful of cuttings could go for hundreds of dollars.

Read more
Can you grow plants in water beads? Here’s what you need to know
Find out what common houseplants you can grow this way
A tulip in a vase with water beads

Keeping your plants healthy includes keeping them hydrated, but what is the best way to do that? There’s traditional watering, automated watering systems for when you’re out of town, and even water globes. One option you may have heard about is growing plants in water beads. Is this really an effective way to keep your plants hydrated, though, or are the potential risks more troublesome than they’re worth? This guide to gardening with water beads will answer all your questions.

What are water beads?
Water beads are gel spheres that come in a variety of sizes and colors. They absorb water and slowly release it over time, which is why some gardeners use them to keep their plants watered. Water beads can be made from a variety of materials, including both naturally occurring and manufactured substances.

Read more
5 easy indoor plants anyone can grow
Simple indoor plants for anyone, especially beginner gardeners
Top down view of several potted plants together in a box

Gardening and caring for houseplants is a hobby stretching back thousands of years, and most people want to give it a try at some point in their lives. If you have a green thumb or experience, then you can grow practically any plant your heart desires, but what if you’re just starting out or have tried and failed to keep plants alive in the past? Not to worry.

These five plants aren’t just beautiful, but they’re also easy to grow. Any beginner can care for these easy indoor plants, so start with this list and work your way up to more difficult plants.

Read more