Pilea (Pilea spp.) is a genus consisting of more than 600 species of frost-tender, tropical foliage plants—including both upright bushy types and trailing varieties. Several smaller species are commonly cultivated as houseplants because they are easy to grow and care for. They make great starter plants for inexperienced growers. They are best planted outdoors in the spring, and indoors you typically can start a plant at any point during the growing season. In general, these plants are moderate to fast growers. Pilea foliage varies considerably, ranging from 3-inch textured and lance-shaped leaves to tiny heart-shaped and moss-like foliage. Pileas occasionally bloom, but their pink or cream flowers are very tiny and often go unnoticed.
|Botanical Name||Pilea spp.|
|Plant Type||Flowering succulents; herbaceous perennials and annuals; houseplants|
|Mature Size||Up to 12 inches tall on average|
|Sun Exposure||Partial sun|
|Soil Type||Average, well-draining|
|Soil pH||5 to 6|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9 to 11|
|Native Area||Tropical and subtropical regions around the world (except for Australia and New Zealand)|
How to Grow Pileas
Pileas are fairly low-maintenance and forgiving plants. With even minimal attention toward watering, they will generally thrive and continuously put out new foliage through the summer months. In the winter, the growth will slow. When growing in containers, plan to repot your pilea annually in the spring in a slightly larger pot. Or start a new plant from cuttings and discard the old plant if you don't have the space for a large pot.
All pileas tend toward legginess and have fairly brittle stems. To encourage a compact, bushy plant, you can pinch off the tips of new growth on branching forms of pilea. But keep in mind that even dedicated attention can't stop the plant from eventually looking a little bedraggled and unattractive because its lower leaves naturally drop with age. When this happens, you can start a new plant from cuttings if you wish.
Most pilea species like bright, indirect light. Do not expose them to direct summer sun, as this can burn the leaves. Indoors, a bright windowsill is a suitable spot. Make sure to rotate the pot at least a couple times a week, as the plant will stretch toward the sun and begin to grow lopsided if you don’t. Pilea can tolerate low light, but its foliage will turn a darker green and it will become leggy.
Pilea plants prefer a moderately rich, well-draining potting mix. Soggy soil can cause root rot and kill a plant. A peat moss-based potting mix with leaf mold and perlite added, or a mix specifically for African violets, is often beneficial.
Pilea plants have medium to high water needs. Water whenever the first inch of soil dries out. You might notice the leaves drooping, which can signal the plant’s need for more water. In hot weather, you'll likely have to water more often.
Temperature and Humidity
Pilea plants generally prefer temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and frost can be deadly to the plants. Indoors, they're happy at a room temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure your plant is situated away from vents that can blow extremely cold or hot air on it. Moreover, pilea plants enjoy a moderate to high humidity level and can be grown in terrariums.
Fertilizer often isn't necessary when pilea is planted outdoors in its growing zones. When growing pilea in containers, use a liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength once in the spring and again in the summer.
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 the appearance of an older pilea. Place cuttings in moist peat, and keep them warm until they root. A rooting hormone usually isn't necessary. If kept at around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, your new plants should be rooted and growing in three to five weeks. Then, you can transplant them into their own containers.
Varieties of Pileas
There are many types of pileas to choose from, depending on the size and appearance you prefer. Some popular varieties include:
- Pilea mollis 'Moon Valley': The moon valley pilea has sawtooth-edged chartreuse leaves with deep texturing like the craters and valleys on the moon.
- Pilea microphylla: Also known as rockweed, artillery plant, and gunpowder plant, this species has light green foliage with tiny leaves.
- Pilea cadierei: The aluminum plant or watermelon pilea has dark green, oval leaves with four raised silver patches that almost have a metallic look.
- Pilea nummulariifolia: This pilea is commonly known as creeping Charlie, a fast-growing evergreen herbaceous perennial that some gardeners consider a nuisance because of its ability to spread.
- Pilea peperomioides: Also known as the Chinese money plant, pancake plant, and UFO plant, this pilea features round, dark green leaves on erect stems.