Houseplant of the Week: Chinese Money Plant

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You might be familiar with the “Money Tree,” pachira aquatica. That plant got its name from a popular story about a destitute man praying for money, who discovered the plant and became rich selling it. We’re staying with the money theme this week, too. Meet the beautiful and unique-looking Chinese Money Plant (pilea peperomioides), which has a backstory rich not in folklore but the sweep of world history.

The plant’s most common nickname comes from its circular leaves that look like coins. Other nicknames include the pancake plant, UFO plant or just Pilea, a shortening of its scientific name. But for many people, this is the Missionary Plant.

Scottish botanist George Forrest was the first westerner to collect Pilea peperomioides in China’s Yunnan Province. Its worldwide propagation is credited to a Norwegian missionary. Agnar Espegren was fleeing the ravages of the Chinese Civil War in 1944 when he was delayed in Yunnan, waiting for a plane to take him and his family to the safety of India. While in Yunnan, he picked up either a full plant or cuttings, most likely at a local market.

The plant survived the trip to India and then another voyage to Norway as the family returned home. Espegren began giving cuttings away and the plant flourished throughout Scandinavia. A Norwegian au pair brought the plant to England as a gift to the British child she was taking care of, and the Chinese Money Plant began to take off in Western Europe. (As you can probably guess, this plant is very easy to propagate, leading to two of its other nicknames, the Sharing Plant and the Pass It On Plant).

Caring for Your Chinese Money Plant

  • This plant thrives in medium to bright indirect light. Avoid direct light, which would damage those lovely leaves. Meanwhile, low light will make the plant “leggy” with fewer offshoots. Rotate regularly to keep symmetrical.
  • Use a rich, well draining soil. Amend with perlite to increase drainage if necessary.
  • Allow the first two to three inches of this plant to dry out between waterings.
  • Average household temps and humidity should be fine for your plant, but keep it away from heating vents.
  • Feed your plant monthly during spring and summer.
  • If you’d like to share this “pass it on plant,” wait until the offshoots are at least a couple of inches tall before cutting. Use a clean knife or shears to cut the offshoot from the main root an inch or two below the soil. Immediately put the cutting in some moist soil in a separate container. Keep the soil moist (but not waterlogged) until the new plant has established a root system in the new pot.