Pilea cadierei is an evergreen perennial in the nettle family that is commonly called the aluminum plant. One look at its leaves, which look like they have been dry brushed by someone let loose with a gallon of aluminum paint, and you will see where it gets its name. It is because of this startling color, which contrasts so well with the dark green foliage, that the plant is so prized.
The Aluminum plant was first introduced to the western world by famed French botanists Andres Guillaumin and François Gagnepain in 1928 while researching the flora of Vietnam, while it was still a colony of France. Named after countryman and fellow botanist, Father Léopold Michel Cadière, who was a famed missionary in what was called Indochina at the time.
The plant was finally introduced in the United States but did not become popular till the houseplant boom of the 1970s, where it has stayed a favorite ever since. It is no wonder why when you look at the silver streaks on each of its leaves. Plus, given the right growing conditions, it is a great plant for houseplant novices.
The Aluminum plant does occasionally flower, but the tiny white blooms are not ornamental. You will want to remove them as soon as they bloom to conserve energy for the impressive foliage growth. This plant does not get very large, twelve inches tall in a grouping cluster of stems. There is a dwarf cultivar available as well, called, Pilea cadierei ‘Minima’ which only reaches four inches in height. It does have a spreading habit.
Though it is most often used as a potted plant, it should be noted that Pilea cadierei can be used near ponds, especially in warmer areas. On the topic of water, you will sometimes see this species sold as an aquarium plant. You should avoid using it in aquariums, however. It is not a true aquatic plant and will die eventually. If it remains submerged it will make a mess, mean you need to clean your tank more frequently, and it isn't a good investment. If you want a plant for your fish’s house, buy a plant that is a true aquatic.
|Botanical Name||Pilea cadierei|
|Common Name||Aluminum Plant, Watermelon Pilea|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||1 - 2 ft|
|Sun Exposure||At least four hours of indirect, sun a day|
|Soil Type||Sandy soil mixture|
|Soil pH||Slight acidic to neutral|
|Bloom Time||Rarely blooms|
|Hardiness Zones||9b-11, USA|
|Native Area||North Africa|
|Toxicity||Toxic for cats and dogs.|
Aluminum Plant Care
The Aluminum plant is easy-to-care-for but can get picky when it comes to its growing conditions. That should not dissuade you from growing this amazing plant. The most common issue you may have is checking the plant for overly abundant root growth each spring. When you first purchase the plant, it is a good practice to transplant it into a larger pot than necessary. The aluminum plant’s roots will actually outgrow your pot and break through its container. Head this off the first year by potting larger, then each subsequent year by transplanting into an even larger pot.
When growing the aluminum plant indoors make sure the plant receives bright, indirect light for at least four hours each day. You need to be certain it does not receive too much sun, as this will scorch the leaves, leading to browning. Outdoor plants should be planted in partial shade.
Choose a well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. You do not need to worry about pH with an aluminum plant. The biggest concern is drainage. You want a very rich soil that can nourish the plant, retain moisture but also drain well. You are looking for the goldilocks of soil. A brand name moisture control potting mix is a good solution.
When it is growing season over the spring and summer, evenly moist soil is recommended for this plant. A good rule to follow is if the top quarter inch is dry it is time to water your plant again. During the winter months, the aluminum plant will need less watering. An occasional misting will be beneficial as will a rock humidity tray.
Temperature and Humidity
If you live in a tropical zone in the US, USDA zones 11 and 12, you will be able to grow your aluminum plant outdoors. Otherwise, you will need to keep this plant as a house plant.
It likes humidity, so consider misting it occasionally and do not leave it near vents or heat sources that will wick moisture away from your plant. If you have a well-lit bathroom, this is an excellent home since there is a source of humidity from the shower.
Like watering, you will want to adjust feeding as the seasons change. When in a growing season, you should fertilize this plant with a quality 5-5-5 water-soluble plant food monthly. During the winter months, it is not needed.
Is the Aluminum Plant Toxic?
The aluminum plant is toxic to our furry friends and can harm dogs and cats, so should be kept away from them. Indoor miniature greenhouses are great for keeping toxic house plants away from family pets.