To the general public, the word "peperomia" likely conjures up images of a spicey sausage sitting on top of a cheese-laden pizza. Plant lovers, however, know that it is the name of a very attractive, useful houseplant. The National Garden Bureau, long-known for its "Year of Plants" series, chose to include a houseplant in 2022. Perhaps in an effort to educate the public in the difference between a plant and a pizza topping, the group opted this year to promote members of the genus Peperomia. Thus, 2022 is "The Year of the Peperomia," at least in the eyes of the NGB.
Peperomias are a diverse group of plants in the Piperaceae (pepper) family. In spite of its name, this is not the plant family that gives us sweet bell and hot peppers (Capsicum annuum). That honor belongs to the Solanaceae (nightshade) plant family. Instead, it's the family that gives us the pepper spice we use to flavor our food. In spite of their kinship to black pepper (Piper nigrum), the peperomias we use as houseplant are not edible.
Many peperomia survive in nature as epiphytes, meaning they use other plants and objects for support and are not anchored in the ground. Because they grow mostly in the understory of the tropics, they do not require bright light, making them ideal candidates for houseplants. Peperomias should not be exposed to full sun, though species with thick fleshy leaves need more light than those with thinner, less succulent leaves. This is important to keep in mind when locating peperomias in the home or office.
Introduced as a houseplant early in the 20th century, for decades, there were only a handful of varieties from which to choose. However, their new-found popularity and ease of growth has resulted in additional varieties being available in commerce. The many types of peperomia can range from bushy to trailing, upright, or cascading, and from plants with fleshy succulent leaves to those less so.
Because of the small stature of most members of the genus, peperomias make good "personal plants." The latter simply means they are ideal for small pots, dish gardens or terrariums where they can be enjoyed "up close and personal." Several of the more popular members of the genus include:
Emerald Ripple Peperomia (P. caperata). Perhaps the most well-known peperomia, Emerald Ripple has heart-shaped leaves that are deeply quilted or furrowed. The furrows are dark purple-green, with the ridges being somewhat lighter for a three-dimensional affect. Additionally, it's spiked cream-color infloresence adds interest. Emerald Ripple prefers bright to medium light, but will tolerate low light for several months without stress.
Variegated Ovalleaf Peperomia (P. obtusifolia 'Variegatum') A succulent-like plant, this species thrives in a medium-light and is forgiving of drying out. Its ease of care and adaptability makes this peperomia an all-around winner. Plus, its variegated leaves add both color and interest to the plant. It is rare to find two leaves on one plant with the exact same variegation.
Watermelon Peperomia (P. argyreia). This species derives its common name from its striped leaves which resemble the rind of a watermelon. It tends to be small and looks better in groupings of plants with similar cultural needs. Although it prefers medium light exposure, it tolerates low light for several months without stress. However, it does not tolerate wet soil, very dry soil, or very drafty locations.
Silver Leaf Peperomia (P. griseoargentea). This peperomia forms rosettes of silver-gray, heart-shaped leaves with heavy curved veining. Its leaves are similar to those of Emerald Ripple, except the color is more metallic-looking. Cultural needs and care are identical to those for Emerald Ripple. This species also is known as Ivy Peperomia.
Red Edged Peperomia (P. clusiifolia). The red coloration around the edges of the leaves is particularly striking on the variegated form of this species. It is very intolerant of overwatering because of its succulent nature. Therefore, water sparingly. Avoid the temptation to repot this peperomia too frequently; it is a slow grower.
Coin Leaf Peperomia (P. polybotrya). This is a beautiful, elegant houseplant. Its leaves are shiny and teardrop-shaped and hang gracefully from the plant. The shiny, succulent leaves are tolerant of drying and give the plant a sense of movement. This species also is known as Teardrop Peperomia.
String of Turtles Peperomia (P. prostrata). String of Turtles is a delicate trailing plant with small, round, and succulent leaves that are dark green to nearly purple. Leaves are variegated or patterned with a network of white veins. The plants spreads, but is not aggressive. A good candidate for a hanging basket, String of Turtles prefers evenly moist soil. However, like many of its relatives, it can suffer if overwatered.
Creeping Buttons Peperomia (P. rotundifolia). A trailing species of peperomia, Creeping Buttons is native to the tropical rainforests of South America. Its button-like, round leaves are thick and succulent. Leaves and stems may entwine and weave in and out of each other. A good candidate for a hanging basket, this species is sensitive to overwatering and prefers to be somewhat pot-bound.
The care of peperomias depends on the species or cultivar in question. All of them are a bit succulent, either in their stems or leaves. The truly succulent types, such as P. obtusifolia need to be treated as such. Wait until the potting medium is almost completely dry before watering again.
The less succulent types such as P. argyreia and P. caperata, walk a fine line when it comes to watering. They cannot be allowed to dry out like the succulent types, but suffer if kept too wet.
Check plants frequently, using your finger, to test the moisture and water when the medium is dry a couple of inches down into the container. Yellowing leaves on a peperomia often indicate the plant is being kept too wet. The resulting root/stem root will case the death of the plant in a majority of cases. Plants can be saved by allowing them to dry out, if the yellow leaves are noticed soon enough.
Grow peperomias in pots filled with a porous, well-drained potting medium for best results. After purchasing a commercial potting medium, adding perlite and/or orchid bark to the mix will made it more ideal for peperomias. This will allow the water to drain quickly but it will retain enough moisture for the plant to thrive. Clay pots work better than plastic pots for growing peperomias, since they allow water to escape through the porous pot sides.
As mentioned above, peperomias (in general) should not be placed in a sunny location. This includes the more succulent varieties. However, variegated cultivars will stay more colorful in a higher light situation. If you watch and water them carefully, keep them warm (above 50°F), and provide medium to bright light, you should have a healthy, thriving peperomia in your plant collection.
Credit: Adapted from an article by the National Garden Bureau (https://ngb.org/year-of-the-peperomia/).