Pilea is a genus consisting of about 600 species of frost tender, tropical foliage plants that include both upright bushy types and trailing varieties. Several smaller species are commonly cultivated as houseplants because they are so easy to grow and care for. These inexpensive little plants are excellent for growing indoors in dish gardens and are great starter plants for young or inexperienced growers. Their foliage varies considerably, ranging from 3" strongly textured, lance-shaped leaves to tiny heart-shaped, moss-like foliage. Pileas occasionally bloom, but their pink or cream-colored flowers are very tiny and often go unnoticed.
The most popular varieties include P. mollis, or Moon Valley, and the P. microphylla, sometimes called the artillery plant or artillery fern, from Central America. The greatest feature of the Moon Valley is their saw-toothed edged, chartreuse leaves with deep texturing like the craters and valleys on the moon.
Other varieties include P. cadierei (aluminum plant, which is native to Vietnam), P. nummulariifolia (creeping Charlie) and P. Norfolk. These are easy houseplants to maintain. Pilea plants should be grown in bright, indirect light, but never in full sun. They will thrive under fluorescent 'grow lights'.
Here are some tips on growing Pilea:
- Light: Bright, indirect light. Do not expose to direct summer sun.
- Water: The pilea group likes high humidity and has fairly high water requirements. Don't let the soil dry out between waterings in the summer.
- Temperature: The pilea prefer temperatures over 50 F.
- Soil: They prefer rich, well-drained potting mix.
Pilea is generally very easy to root from cuttings. As the plants have a tendency toward legginess, it's a good idea to start new cuttings every spring instead of wrestling with an older pilea. Place cuttings in moist peat and keep warm until they root. Rooting hormone usually isn't necessary.
Strike 2 or 3 cuttings in a 3" pot filled with moistened potting mix. Place the pot in a propagating case or in a sealed plastic bag to hold in humidity. If kept at 75 F your new plants will be rooted and growing in 3 to 5 weeks.
Repot yearly in the spring, or start a new plant from cuttings and discard the old plant.
Pileas are not difficult plants to grow. Pileas grow best in smaller, 4" pots or planters where their roots will be somewhat restricted. They should be planted in a peat moss based commercial potting mix with leaf mold and perlite added, or a mix specifically for African violets.
With even minimal attention toward watering, they will generally thrive and continuously put out new foliage through the summer months. In the winter, growth slows. All pileas tend toward legginess and have fairly brittle stems. To encourage a compact, bushy plant, pinch off the tips of new growth on branching forms of Pilea. Keep in mind that even dedicated attention can't stop the plant from eventually looked a little bedraggled and unattractive because their lower leaves naturally drop with age. When this happens, just start new cuttings.