I rescued a little plant this spring. The local horticultural society had a sale and someone had donated a plant — the person had filled a Styrofoam cup with soil and stuck in three small slips of a green plant. They were quite wilted and not surprisingly did not sell, so I brought the cup home and potted the slips up into a proper pot. I put some rooting hormone on the ends of the stems first and set the pot on a shelf in the sunroom.
Although the slips had no label on them I thought that they probably belonged to the peperomia family, recognizing the fleshy, heart-shaped leaves each coming to a sharp point, characteristic of the members of the peperomia plant family. Although many members of this family have colourful leaves, those of the plant I rescued are pure green.
By the end of June the plants had grown quite a bit — another characteristic of peperomias — they are very easy to propagate by using cuttings.
They are great plants for use in mixed containers such as fairy gardens, terrariums and bottle gardens, as they don’t mind other plants crowding them. Peperomias also make attractive specimen plants when planted individually in attractive containers.
They are not big plants; most grow only about 15 cm tall and grow at least as wide as they are tall, so are perfect tabletop plants for the indoor landscape.
Peperomias are native to tropical Central and South America where they are semi-epiphytic, growing on rotting tree trunks. When growing them as houseplants they demand a very porous soil; if a peperomia wilts it is usually not because it is dry but because its roots are not getting enough oxygen. Never overpot a peperomia for the same reason — the roots will suffocate in too large a pot. Water the plant sparingly and only after the top several centimetres of soil feel dry to the touch.
The main attraction of peperomias is their foliage. They do produce spikes of non-descript tiny flowers, but these are often cut off as they appear. The leaves come in a wide range of colours and textures — there are over 1,000 varieties of peperomias! The leaf surface might be rippled, smooth or shiny, and leaves can be pure green, red, cream or even grey. Many plants have an upright growth habit and a mounding appearance, but others trail and make attractive hanging plants.
The foliage can have interesting colouration. Although mine has plain green leaves, some varieties are marbled or striped. One popular peperomia is called “Watermelon” because its leaf surfaces resemble the markings on a watermelon — green with narrow silver stripes.
Because peperomias grow naturally under the canopy of tropical rainforests, they prefer low to medium light levels and object to direct sunlight. This makes them perfect for the interior as they do not need to be located in front of a window, making them more versatile than some other plants which demand brighter light.
Like most low-light plants, peperomias need not be watered very often. They are semi-succulent and their thick fleshy leaves store a lot of water. Because they are grown for their foliage it is important to keep the leaves clean and attractive. Both the rippled types as well as those that have shiny smooth foliage will attract dust. Holding the plants under the tap or shower while running a gentle spray of water will clean the foliage effectively. Kept clean and well groomed, a peperomia plant will make a great addition to any inside space.