Resembling the fan-favorite rubber plant, just tinier, Peperomia are plants in the peppercorn family, Piperaceae. Peperomia make great houseplants, are low maintenance, and clean the air.
The family Piperaceae belongs to an ancient lineage of flowering plants known as Magnoliids. These plants are mostly tropical, and are the source of many of the essential oils and botanical oddities that we use. Avocadoes, magnolias, bay laurel, cinnamon, camphor, soursop, and more are all Magnoliids, and we feel fortunate to be in close contact with these plants in everyday life, for the many benefits they offer.
Ornament Over All
Peperomia is grown not for food purposes, but for ornamental purposes, as they are fleshy, succulent, colorful and adaptable. Like other Piperaceae, their flower spikes lack a perianth (petals and sepals), are borne on a spike, and the fruits are drupes. Peperomia have the ability to be propagated from any part of the plant, except for the roots. Stem or even leaf cuttings however can root if given proper conditions, which makes it quite valuable in the horticultural industry. This ability is more common in more ancient lineages, but randomly; and whether or not it is an ancient characteristic, or just an evolutionary quirk remains to be known. Being relatively easy to grow, Peperomias are also prized for their foliage and are definitely good plants for beginners.
A Palette for Peppercorns
Piperaceae is a botanically relevant and interesting family, especially to the cultures of Southeast Asia, where it originates, and India. The most well-known member of this family is Piper nigrum, the black peppercorn vine which gives us a whole rainbow of peppercorns, including black, white, red (but not pink), and green peppercorns. Similarly to how white, black, red, and green tea are all produced from the same plant, the color and flavor all depend on the ripeness at harvest and the processing. Black peppercorns are produced by picking the unripe peppercorns, boiling them, and letting them sun-dry. Not all peppers are alike—for example, sweet or spicy chili peppers are Capiscum and in a completely unrelated plant family. In Southeast Asia, P. betle is wrapped around betel nuts (Areca catechu) and chewed for its stimulatory effects. P. cubeba is the source of cubeb, a flavoring used in cigarettes, medicines, and bitters. P. methysticum is boiled into a ceremonial drink on the island of Fiji, known famously as Kava kava. This drink is a hallucinogenic, euphoric drink, which has been used for spiritual purposes in Fiji and the surrounding islands. Most Piperaceae are edible, and almost all are pet-friendly.
Here are a few tips approved by The Sill in caring for Peperomia.
Medium light and can tolerate low light. Can take up to a few hours of direct sunlight indoors.
Water weekly. Allow potting mix to dry out before watering. Soil about 1-2” down should be dry to touch. Water more frequently during warmer months and fertilize during growth. Generally, the plant will droop or leaves will curl to show that it needs more water. Do not overwater or keep the soil wet for too long, as this will encourage root rot.
Any humidity level will do. Normal room humidity is fine.
65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F (15°C).
It is generally a very easy-going plant. May get mealybugs. Treat mealybugs as soon as they appear with weekly sprays of horticultural oil and regular wipe-downs of the plant.
SYMPTOM: Leaves turning brown and crispy at leaf edges
CAUSE: Under watered, high salts, or potassium deficiency
SYMPTOM: Drooping or leaves curling
CAUSE: Under watered
SYMPTOM: Yellowing, possible blackened stems
CAUSE: Root rot disease; overwatering
PRECAUTIONS: Generally considered OK by the ASPCA. Best practice is always to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and pets.