First discovered in the Yunnan Province, a southwestern province of China, Pilea Peperomioides journey to the living rooms of the western world is a mysterious and fascinating one.
In the early 20th century, prolific Scottish Botanist George Forrest became one of the first western explorers to travel to the Yunnan Province. Visits to the province were exceptionally treacherous. His early expeditions coincided with the Tibetan Rebellion, during which time foreigners visiting the region were targeted for death by the local buddhist lamas. During his expeditions he collected samples of local plant species, sending them back to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. He collected hundreds of specimens, including species of rhododendrons, other shrubs, and perennials. Included in his samples was the Pilea Peperomioides, but unfortunately the now popular houseplant was studied, categorized and forgotten about.
"In the early 20th century, prolific Scottish Botanist George Forrest became one of the first western explorers to travel to the Yunnan Province. Visits to the province were exceptionally treacherous. "
In 1983, writer Robert Pearson published an article in the Sunday Telegraph, calling upon readers to share any information they may have had on the curious plant in an effort to shed some light on its origins. Pearson was inundated with responses, most of which informing him that they received the plant as a gift. One response, however, was more intriguing than the rest. A family in Cornwall, UK wrote in telling the story of how they had received the plant as a gift from the young daughter of a Norwegian Au Pair. From here the mystery began to unravel.
Word spread to Scandinavia, inspiring many Scandi Botanists to travel to Kew to examine the specimen. One Stockholm-based botanist, Dr. Lars Kers, realized that the Pilea Peperomioides was the same plant that he had received as a gift and been caring for for years, despite previously not knowing what it was. This prompted him to prepare a presentation for Swedish Television, resulting in over 10,000 responses. With the help of the Swedish public the final piece of the puzzle was uncovered.
In the mid 1900s Agnar Espergren, a Lutheran missionary working in China was ordered to return home due to the perils posed by the war between China and Japan. During a visit to Yunnan he took a cutting of the Pilea Peperomioides, which he carefully wrapped and brought home to Norway via Calcutta, a journey that took over a year to make. The cutting survived and Espergren nurtured it during his time in his native country, propagating it and giving it as gifts. This began the spread of the plant across Europe.
Pilea Peperomioides goes by a plethora of names, some of which referring to its appearance (for example the Pancake Plant or UFO Plant) and others for its symbolism.
The Chinese Money Plant is the most frequently used common name for this plant. It is a symbol of good fortune, prosperity and wealth in Chinese culture. An anecdote that accompanies the Chinese Money Plant is that those who own one will find coins on the ground as they go about their day.
Due to the plants' near abundant ability to produce pups, this plant is also commonly called the Friendship Plant. Owners of this plant are encouraged to give these pups to other as a gesture of friendship.
In their native China, Pilea Peperomioides grow naturally at high altitudes on shady, damp rocks. Despite this, when grown as houseplants, Chinese Money Plants tend to thrive best in bright indirect sunlight. They are also capable of withstanding some direct sunlight but it is best to avoid placing them in windows that receive intense direct sunlight as this can scorch the leaves.
Unlike other succulents like Sansevierias and Zamioculcas’, Pilea prefer slightly more regular watering. We recommend watering these plants when the top 2-3 inches of soil begin to dry out. The leaves and stems of these plants will lose their stiff upright form and begin to droop when they need watering. However, it is paramount to avoid overwatering Pilea as this can cause leaves to turn yellow and drop off. To avoid overwatering ensure the plant is potted in a free draining indoor compost and their pots have a hole for drainage. The leaves of Pilea that are experiencing the early stages of overwatering will tend to curl inwards. If you observe this we recommend you lift the plant from its pot and check the soil to see if it is soggy and retaining excess water.
"The leaves of Pilea that are experiencing the early stages of overwatering will tend to curl inwards."
When kept as houseplants, more humid rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms tend to be favoured by the Chinese Money Plant due to their origins in the humid rainforests of the Yunnan Province. Alternatively regular misting may be beneficial. We also recommend cleaning the leaves of these plants regularly to remove the powdery calcium deposits that form on the bottoms of the leaves which can develop when the plant is being watered with tap water.
These plants are a great option for people who have curious young children and pets as they are classified as non-toxic. The Chinese Money Plant’s ability to produce small pups that can be separated into plants of their own offer a great opportunity to get young children involved in the world of botany. The pups can be given to children to care for without the risk of losing your own beloved Pilea.
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Words by: Cian Funge