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Caring for the Pilea Peperomioides: a Playful Houseplant for a Bright Home

Words by
January 17, 2017
I really love plants, I think you can never have too many of them. I’m always on the look out for new plants or for ways to propagate the plants we already have. One of my favourite plants at the moment (and a very popular plant on social media) is the Pilea Peperomioides, which is also known as Chinese Money plant, Missionary plant or Pancake plant. What makes the plant so special, besides its great looks, is that it has been spread amongst amateur gardeners via cuttings without being well-known to botanists. That's probably also the reason why the plant is so hard to get in most countries.
Pilea Plant
photo © Anne van Ours

History of the Pilea

The Pilea Peperomioides originates from China where a Norwegian missionary, Agnar Espegren, found it and brought it to Norway in 1946. Mr. Espegren subsequently travelled widely in Norway and often gave basal shoots of the plant to friends. In this way the plant was effectively distributed around Norway where it is now widespread as a windowsill plant and where it is known as 'the Missionary Plant'. You can read the full story of the origin of the Pilea here.

Taking care of my Pileas

There’s still not much to find on the internet or in books about how to take care of a Pilea so I had to figure it out myself. I will share the way I take care of my Pileas. This doesn’t mean this is the only way you can take care of them, but it’s the way that works for me and my Pileas.
Pilea Plant
photo © Anne van Ours

Container

I keep most of my Pileas in terracotta pots because I like the look of them. I also keep some Pileas in plastic pots. All the Pileas are doing fine so I don't think it matters what container you choose. What is important is that the container you choose has drainage holes in the bottom so the roots don't stay too wet.

Water

I water my Pileas about once a week, depending on the season. On hot summer days they might need a bit more water than on colder days. What's important is to not keep the soil wet, but let it dry out a bit in between waterings, but also don't let it dry out completely, either. The plants in terracotta pots might need watering more often because the terracotta absorbs part of the water.
Pilea Plant
photo © Anne van Ours

Light

All my Pileas love a spot in front of a window where they get a lot of light, but almost no direct sunlight. This is where they grow best. In a spot where there's more shade, they will do fine too, but the leaves might turn a darker green. Too much direct sunlight might scorch the leaves. I do rotate my plants a few times a week because the leaves grow in the direction of the sun. For the darker periods of the year or for spots with almost no sunlight, you can also use the Cynara lamp. I’ve been using it for two months now and the Pilea seems to be doing great!
Pilea Plant
photo © Anne van Ours
In the colder months of the year, the heaters are turned on again. It's really important not to put your Pilea anywhere near a working heater. I did that with my first Pilea and it almost lost all of its leaves. Luckily it recovered again after putting it in a different spot with only three leaves left and look at it now!

Propagation

The Pilea is an easy plant to propagate because the plant makes her own babies. You just have to take away from her. There are two ways the plant grows new babies. Some of them grow on the stem of the plant and other ones pop up from underneath the soil. Some Pilea plants grow their babies both ways and some plants only one way.
First up how to grow the plantlets that pop up from the soil. These are the easiest to grow because they already have roots. Make sure they're big enough to grow on their own. The bigger they are, the more chance they have of surviving away from the mother plant.

First you have to follow their stem about 1 cm underneath the soil. Then, you just need to cut the plantlet there with a clean, sharp knife. Because these plantlets already have little roots, you don't need to put them in water first but you can put them straight into moist soil. They take a few weeks to get anchored in their soil and then they will begin to sprout new leaves of their own.

When propagating the plantlets that grow from the stem you again have to make sure that they're big enough to survive on their own. Now all you have to do is use a sharp and clean knife and cut off the plantlet. Because these plantlets don't have roots yet, I always put them in water first to grow some roots.This takes about 1 or 2 weeks. Once they have little roots, you can put them in soil as well. I've heard that you can put them straight in moist soil as well but I've never tried it myself and I like the look of the little Pileas in water.

You can take cuttings of your Pilea all year round, but I think the best period to take your cuttings is in spring. That's when the plant grows the fastest and makes most of the babies. My own plants are having a little winter vacation and I'll wait until March or April before I will take new cuttings again.
Pilea Plant
photo © Anne van Ours
Anne van Ours is a mother of two and a Montessori teacher from the Netherlands with a passion for plants. Currently living in Barcelona, Anne curates her personal blog Nininoes, showcasing her family, her home and her beautiful plant portraits. For illuminate she dishes out info on one of her favourite plants and a social media star, the Pilea Peperomioides.