Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gardener, ZZ and snake plants are popular choices for many houseplant enthusiasts. Not only do they add aesthetics and freshen up any space, but they also require minimal care!
Despite growing in similar environmental conditions, those plants are more different than you think.
In this ZZ plant vs. snake plant article, we’ll explore seven distinctions between those popular houseplants. From their origin to their physical appearance, keep reading for all the details!
What Are the Differences?
While both are popular options for indoor plants, ZZ and snake plants have several differences. Those include scientific classification, physical appearance, origin, distribution, and growing conditions.
Here’s a detailed explanation of each factor:
It comes as no surprise that ZZ and snake plants belong to different families since they differ significantly in their physical appearance.
The former belongs to the family Araceae, which includes around 140 genera. Scientifically, ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) are classified under the genus Zamioculcas. They’re the only members of this group.
Some common names of ZZ plants include the Zanzibar gem, eternity plant, Zuzu plant, and emerald palm.
Snake plants, on the other hand, belong to the family Asparagaceae. The former consists of 153 genera.
Unlike ZZ plants, snake plants aren’t the only members of their genus, Dracaena. The former contains around 120 species.
Previously, snake plants were scientifically known as Sansevieria trifasciata before moving to their new genus.
Aside from their scientific name, Dracaena trifasciata, snake plants have many nicknames. Those include the mother-in-law’s tongue, Saint George’s sword, and viper’s bowstring hemp.
As the name implies, the Zanzibar gem originated in Africa, particularly Zanzibar. However, those perennial plants are also native to East Africa, spanning from southern Kenya all the way to northeastern South Africa.
From their origin, you can guess that ZZ plants prefer tropical climates. So, you can cultivate those plants in similar climate conditions in the US, which are USDA zones 9-10.
Like ZZ plants, snake plants are also native to Africa. However, they originated from the tropical west region of Africa, from Nigeria to eastern Congo.
That means those plants also prefer similar environmental conditions as ZZ plants. They typically grow well in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 12.
Both ZZ and snake plants are medium- to large-sized plants. Generally, the former reaches a mature height of 2 to 4 feet and has a similar width.
However, those measurements can vary depending on the species and growing conditions. For instance, the dwarf variety, Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Zamicro,’ only grows up to 10 inches.
Snake plants can be slightly bigger than ZZ plants. They reach a mature size of between 2 and 3 feet when grown indoors.
In their native habitat, the mother-in-law’s tongue can grow to an impressive height of 6 to 12 feet. As for the width, they don’t take up much room like ZZ plants; they only extend around 2 to 2.5 inches.
Probably the easiest way to tell ZZ and snake plants apart is through their foliage. Both plants have different leaf shapes and colors.
Typically, the Zanzibar natives have elliptic to ovate leaf shapes. Both are oval with a tapered end; the difference is that the latter is wider in the base.
As for their type and arrangement, ZZ plants produce compound leaves arranged in an alternate pattern. Each leaf consists of around 18-25 leaflets and usually reaches 2-4 inches long.
Aside from the shape, those plants have green fleshy, glossy, or leathery leaves with smooth margins.
Snake plants, on the other hand, have a lot going on. For starters, they produce linear and lanceolate leaves, both reaching a length between 6 inches and up to 4 feet long!
The leaves are fleshy, with a leathery texture and a smooth margin. Unlike ZZ plants, snake plants have simple leaf types arranged in rosettes.
What’s more, those plants have variegated leaves. The base is typically green with alternate transverse bands. The latter can be a different shade of green or other colors, including yellow, cream, and white.
Since both plants grow in hot climates, they need a special mechanism to survive droughts. That’s when the rhizome root system enters.
Basically, the former is a modified stem that grows horizontally under the ground. Both ZZ and snake plants have this type of root system; however, they differ in structure.
ZZ plants develop fleshy, bulbous rhizomes that store water and help them resist drought. That’s why the former can be highly sensitive to overwatering.
As for snake plants, they produce whitish, clove-like modified stems that can creep above the ground. However, the rhizomes can also spread underground, but not at deep levels.
As you might have guessed, ZZ and snake plants prefer tropical climates since they’re native to Africa.
The Zanzibar native plant isn’t picky about the light conditions. They thrive in deep to partial shade, making them excellent for indoor growing.
However, frequent low-light conditions cause the plants to become leggy. Too much sunlight isn’t good either, as it can scorch the leaves.
For optimal growth, place the plants near a south-facing window to receive around 6 hours of indirect sunlight.
As for snake plants, they prefer a mix of direct and indirect sunlight. They should receive between 2-6 hours of direct sunlight or 8-10 hours of partial shade.
Both plants tolerate dry soil and don’t require frequent watering. You can check the potting mix’s moisture every two weeks and only water the plants when the soil is dry.
ZZ and snake plants prefer warm conditions and moderate humidity. The former grow best at temperatures between 60ºF and 85ºF. They don’t tolerate temperatures below 45ºF and will stop growing.
Snake plants require a similar temperature range. They flourish at around 65ºF-90ºF and can’t survive prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50ºF.
As for the humidity, both plants prefer it around 40%-50%. So, your regular indoor conditions should be fine.
However, if your house is on the dry side, you can install a humidifier to balance it out. Alternatively, you can mist the plants frequently or place the pots on a tray filled with water.
How Are They Similar?
Aside from their slightly similar growing conditions, ZZ and snake plants have some traits in common. They are easy to grow, have the same propagation methods, and can be toxic.
Let’s discuss each element in further detail!
The African native plants are an excellent choice for beginners. They’re drought-tolerant, so you don’t have to worry about them dying if you forget to water them. Plus, they require sandy soil and little fertilization.
You can propagate ZZ and snake plants through division or cuttings. The former refers to separating the rhizomes and reporting them in separate containers.
As for cuttings, you simply need to cut an entire stalk, remove the bottom leaflets, and leave it in a water jar. Once the roots start to grow, repot the cutting.
Both ZZ and snake plants are toxic to humans and animals if ingested. The former contains calcium oxalate, while the latter produces saponins—both of which are poisonous chemicals.
The symptoms can vary from mild to severe and typically include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and excessive salivation. Cats can also experience dilated pupils.
When comparing ZZ plants to snake plants, you can see several differences.
The former produces compound leaves with numerous green, oval leaflets arranged in an alternate pattern. As for the latter, it has foliage with transverse bands that come in many shades.
Aside from their physical appearance, both plants have different scientific classifications, origins, and growing conditions. Despite that, ZZ and snake plants share some similarities, including being low-maintenance.
So, whether you choose the simple foliage appearance of ZZ plants or the striking variegation of snake plants, both options make a beautiful addition to your indoor houseplant collection!
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.