Does the ZZ Plant Cause Cancer? Fact or Fiction? [Solved]

Can your favorite houseplant really give you cancer? The ZZ plant, a popular choice among indoor plant enthusiasts for its hardiness and aesthetic appeal, has been at the center of a controversial rumor. 

Claims have been circulating that this attractive plant could potentially cause cancer. But how much truth is there to these alarming assertions? 

We’ll delve into the origins of this rumor, explore the actual toxicity of the ZZ plant, and separate fact from fiction.

Quick Answer: Does ZZ Plant Cause Cancer?

The ZZ plant, or Zamioculcas zamiifolia, does not cause cancer. While it contains calcium oxalate crystals and produces small amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), these are not carcinogenic. Experts agree that the cancer risk from ZZ plant exposure is extremely low.

The Rumor and Its Origin

The ZZ plant, scientifically known as Zamioculcas zamiifolia, has been a beloved houseplant for many years, adorning homes and offices with its lush, glossy foliage. However, along with its rise in popularity, a concerning rumor began to circulate. 

Some started to claim that this plant, often praised for its air-purifying qualities, could potentially cause cancer.

The origin of this rumor is unclear, but it is tied to the plant’s toxicity. Like many houseplants, the ZZ plant does contain certain toxic compounds, specifically calcium oxalate crystals. 

These can cause skin irritation upon contact and, if ingested, can lead to symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. However, it’s important to note that many plants contain calcium oxalate, including several common houseplants and even some foods. 

The presence of this compound alone does not make a plant carcinogenic. 

The leap from the ZZ plant’s mild toxicity to its causing cancer is significant, and it’s crucial to examine the scientific evidence before drawing any conclusions.

What Does the Research Say?

While there is a lack of direct research on ZZ plants causing cancer, some scientific literature discusses the carcinogenic properties of certain houseplants. 

One such study, published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, found that some common houseplants, including the ZZ plant, could produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) ¹ . These VOCs have been linked to various health problems, including cancer. However, it’s important to note that the study also mentions that the amount of VOCs produced by these plants is relatively small. 

Furthermore, the study emphasizes that the health risks associated with VOCs are primarily a concern in indoor environments with poor ventilation.

Calcium Oxalate Crystals

Another aspect to consider is the presence of calcium oxalate crystals in the ZZ plant.

These crystals, found in many houseplants, can cause irritation if ingested or come into contact with the skin. However, according to the National Capital Poison Center, there is no evidence to suggest that calcium oxalate is carcinogenic.

Related: The Chameleon ZZ Plant that can Change Colors!

What Happens if You Touch a ZZ Plant?

Touching a ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is typically safe. However, it contains calcium oxalate crystals that may cause skin irritation, particularly in individuals with sensitive skin. To ensure safety, washing hands after handling the plant and before touching your face or eyes is recommended.

Final Thoughts: Take a Deep Breath

While the ZZ plant does produce VOCs and contains calcium oxalate crystals, the risk of these causing cancer is minimal. 

Handling them with care, especially around children and pets, is essential, as with any houseplant. However, there’s no need to remove your ZZ plant out of fear of cancer. 

Maintaining a well-ventilated environment and regular care is vital to enjoying your indoor plants safely.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.