Charming Pilea peperomioides, also called pancake plant or Chinese money plant, makes a big impact with little effort
You may have spotted this houseplant with round, pancake-shaped leaves popping up in photos of Scandinavian interiors, often positioned in a place of reverence on a minimalist bookshelf or a midcentury modern side table.
Pilea peperomioides, commonly called pilea, pancake plant or Chinese money plant, has an ultra-adorable, almost Seussian form that adds character and a hit of green to any interior space. Although it’s less common in the U.S. than in Europe and the U.K., we’d place our bets that this houseplant soon will be making the jump across the pond.
While you’re scouting out the best spot for your future pilea, here’s what to know about how to keep these charming little plants happy and healthy.
Botanical name: Pilea peperomioides
Common names: Pilea, pancake plant, Chinese money plant, missionary plant
Temperature requirement: Grows anywhere as a houseplant; outside, grows best in warm, mild climates with a minimum temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius (some sources say they are hardy down to freezing)
Water requirement: Low to moderate (water only when dry); thrives in well-draining soil
Light requirement: Bright, indirect light; needs shelter from intense sun
Mature size: About 12 inches tall and wide
Benefits and tolerances: Like other houseplants, pilea can improve air quality
Seasonal interest: Evergreen grown as a houseplant; forms tiny, inconspicuous white flowers
Where to put it. Pilea thrives in bright, indirect light — like a sunny north-facing window or a south-facing window with a gauzy curtain. Direct sunlight can cause the delicate leaves to burn.
In mild climates, you can move the plant outside in summer — a good time to wash off the leaves if they’ve become dusty — as long as you keep it out of direct sunlight.
How to use it. Show off pilea’s quirky form by potting up plants in simple containers like plain white or natural terra-cotta that won’t compete with it for attention. Because pilea stays desk-topper size, it’s a perfect plant to place on side tables, bookshelves, windowsills, sideboards, desks or kitchen shelves. Position plants close to eye level, where you can appreciate the slightly translucent quality of the leaves and notice small changes in your plant.
Why we love it. Pilea brings loads of character for its pint-size form. It’s almost a child’s drawing of a plant, except it’s real and — best yet — super easy to grow. Pilea holds its round, lily pad-like leaves at a jaunty angle from the main stem as if it’s greeting the day with its hands reaching upward.
Care tips. Pot up plants in well-draining potting soil and make sure all containers have a drainage hole. If you’re dropping a nursery container into an outer ceramic pot without a hole, make sure to set the nursery container on a layer of gravel to elevate the soil from standing water.
Water about once a week, perhaps a bit more in the warm summer months, allowing the top 2 inches of soil to dry out between waterings.
To keep your pilea from growing unevenly, turn the container around every time you water to face the opposite side of the plant toward the light. Pilea is naturally a slow grower, but feeding it with a water-soluble fertilizer (according to package instructions) in spring and summer can speed up new leaf growth.
For the plant starts that sprout from the soil, use a clean knife to gently cut the plant start free a few inches below the soil. Hold on to as much soil as you can around the mini root ball and immediately pot up the baby plant in a small container with fresh potting soil. Keep the soil moist until the plant start sprouts new leaves and then reduce watering.
For plant starts that spring from the stem of the mother plant, gently snap them off where the baby plant meets the main stem and place the plant start in water until roots develop. Then transplant it to a small container with fresh potting soil as described above.
Where to find one. Pilea isn’t yet common in the U.S., so tracking one down at a nursery can be tricky. Your best bet is to find a fellow plant enthusiast — perhaps online — who would be willing to share a cutting with you. If you can get your hands on one, in the spirit of tradition, share a few cuttings with your friends and family.
History. As the story of pilea goes, the plant originated in Yunnan Province in southern China and was brought back to Europe by a Norwegian missionary. He then passed on cuttings of the easily propagated plant to friends and family to grow as houseplants. Pilea quickly spread throughout Scandinavia, Europe and the U.K., finally to be recognized by Kew Gardens in a published story in the 1980s.