Have you ever bought a house plant from the black market? As strange as it may sound, as little as 3 years ago, there was one plant so sought after that an unrooted cutting would sell for $50.
The year was 2016. The plant was Pilea Peperomioides, also known as the Chinese money plant.
It’s not hard to see why this plant became so popular. It doesn’t need a lot of attention and, in return, it gives you a pleasing shape, bright foliage and it grows fast. When you add Instagram, Pinterest and the trend for Scandinavian interior design into the mix, you have a fad that still hasn’t gone away.
Whether you’ve finally found a Pilea of your own or you missed the hype the first time around, here’s everything you need to know about Chinese money plant care.
Chinese money plant, friendship/UFO/pancake plant
Peperomia Polybotra (raindrop/owl eyes pilea)
Forests of south-west China
Moderate (water once the top 2 inches of soil are dry)
Lots of indirect sunlight
Low – medium
50 – 75F (10 – 24C)
Well-draining potting soil with optional added sand or perlite
All-purpose fertilizer for green leafy plants applied monthly
Pilea Peperomioides is a lot easier to look after than it is to say. All it needs is some well-draining soil, moderate watering and lots of indirect sunlight.
Its popular names come from its distinctive, circular leaves. This plant was originally brought to Scandinavia by missionaries and, as it spread around the world, each culture named it after a different round object. To some, the leaves look like coins, to others, pancakes and then later, some even called it the UFO plant.
Whatever they remind you of, the leaves are leathery, shiny, and bright green in color. They sprout from long stalks from a central stem and, on a mature plant, they will grow about as big as the palm of your hand.
Chinese money plant caring tips
Because the leaves of your Chinese money plant are thick, it needs moderate watering. However, the plant will be much happier if you let it dry out between soakings. Even in a small pot, it will last until the top two inches of soil are dry before it drinks again.
In the wild, this plant grows in the inhospitable gaps between boulders, so your windowsill is like a luxury hotel. Even if you only remember to water it every week or two, it’ll keep giving you fresh new leaves.
Chinese money plants will start to droop if they’re thirsty, and overwatering will cause the leaves to become discolored. You should also watch out for damage in the center of the leaf at the point where it meets the stalk. This is a sure sign that the roots of the plant are beginning to rot.
Chinese money plants need lots of sunlight, but the direct sun will burn the leaves. It’s best to put them behind a net curtain on a sunny window or to keep them a few feet away from the glass. If they’re getting too much sun, they’ll quickly start to wilt and the leaves will dry out.
You’ll also notice that this plant likes to grow towards the light. Another quick but important task in Chinese money plant care is to turn your plant every week or two so that it grows evenly. If you can remember to do this every time you water the plant, you’ll end up with a much more symmetrical specimen.
This plant is used to living on the rocky forest floor. It’s hardy and capable of thriving at temperatures much lower than other indoor plants. In fact, even if nighttime temperatures drop to 50, it’s not going to complain.
This also means that Pilea is fine with low humidity. There’s no need to mist this plant, and it might even thank you for keeping its leaves dry. Keeping it close to other plants to maintain a constant level of humidity is an advantage, but if it’s your first house plant and this isn’t possible, just make sure that you keep it away from the air-drying effect of heaters in the winter.
Plant Food and Soil
When the time comes to repot your Chinese money plant, you should opt for well-draining potting soil mixed with sand, cactus mix, or even orchid bark. It’s used to poor soil and will adapt well to a lot of different growing mediums, so feel free to use whatever soil will suit the rest of your plants and save yourself an extra purchase.
Pilea appreciates the added aeration and drainage that comes from mixing regular soil with something more open, but if regular soil is all you have, it’s still going to grow fine.
You don’t need to feed your Pilea more than once a month in the growing season, and any all-purpose plant food will do.
A Chinese money plant is an easy plant to care for, but its small size and long leaf stalks mean that it’s not indestructible. The instructions above are a good starting point for the weeks after you first bring your plant home, but we’ve also assembled some tips for helping it thrive in the long term.
Unless you have a very small Pilea that’s grown a lot in the year, you don’t need to repot it very often. The plant is actually happier when the roots are a little tight in the pot.
If you do choose to repot a plant that’s obviously too big for its container, go up only about an inch in pot size every time and make sure that you choose a pot with plenty of drainage holes. Because this plant doesn’t mind drying out, a terracotta pot is a good choice.
One thing to bear in mind when repotting is the legend of the money plant. Apparently, the plant will bring wealth if you add a coin to the bottom of the pot. Doing so certainly isn’t going to harm the plant, and you never know what else might happen if you decide to test this superstition…
Most growers choose not to prune their money plants unless some of their leaves become damaged. To keep the pot looking neat, you might choose to cut away the baby plantlets that will grow out of the soil beside your mother pot, but we’ll tell you more about that later.
If you do choose to prune, make sure your knife or scissors are sharp and clean before you begin.
Some people covet a tall Pilea, which can look almost like a miniature tree. This is difficult to achieve without using a small stake to support the stem, but it can be an attractive way to display the plant. Tie the stalk to the cane as it grows and, once it’s reached the height you want, simply prune the lower leaves away.
Transplanting and propagating
There are parts of the world where a Chinese money plant is called a friendship plant. This name comes from how easy it is to propagate and pass on to people you know. In fact, it’s speculated that all Pilea are related to one plant brought back from China and that it spread so far in the West just through people sharing cuttings.
If you want a new Pilea, wait for your healthy mother plant to sprout a plantlet from its roots. This happens multiple times each year, so you won’t have to wait long. When the plantlet has a few strong-looking leaves of its own, you should follow it down about an inch below the soil and use a sharp knife to sever it from the mother plant.
Even if your cutting comes up without any roots, you can propagate it. Either balance it in a jar of water and wait for roots to grow (which will take between 1 and 2 weeks) or plant it directly into well-draining soil. Within 6 weeks, it should have established itself and even grown some new leaves.
Unfortunately, although it tolerates a range of light and moisture conditions, the Chinese money plant is not very resistant to pests. An infestation can cause severe damage to the new growth. If you notice new leaves that are yellowed, puckered, full of holes, or much smaller than you expected, check your plant thoroughly for signs of insects.
Naturally, whitefly, spider mites and mealybug can all be a problem, but aphids especially love this plant. To get rid of the insects, wash the leaves with a warm, soapy cloth, but be careful not to let too much water run down the stem. If the points where the stem meets the leaf stalks get too wet, the leaves often rot.
Good news! Pilea is non-toxic to humans and animals, so it’s a very safe plant for a home with small children or curious cats and dogs.
Of course, this plant is so small that you’ll probably have it up on a shelf, on a windowsill, or otherwise out of reach anyway, but it’s good to have peace of mind. Rest assured, this plant can live on the coffee table within reach of small hands and paws with no risk to your family.
Where can I buy one?
Because we’re now 2 years beyond the height of Pilea mania, you no longer have to turn to the Instagram black market to find a cutting. Far from the days of $50 a leaf, it’s now easy to find an established plant in a 4-inch pot for around $10.
Surfing the trend, many supermarkets and interiors stores have started to stock this plant, so you shouldn’t have to search for too long. I bought mine at New Year when they’re often given as good luck charms, so it might be a good idea to keep your eyes open for one in the winter.
Of course, you could always do it the old-fashioned way and beg a cutting from a friend.
When should I plant my cutting if it’s growing in water?
If you’ve chosen to propagate your Pilea in water, you should start to see new roots growing within a week or two. It’s best to wait another 2 – 4 weeks until the roots have grown to at least an inch in length before you transfer it to the soil.
During this time, make sure you keep the water topped up so that the cutting doesn’t dry out.
Why is my money plant drooping?
As Pilea matures, the leaves become larger and heavier and the relatively thin stems struggle to support them if the cells aren’t in good condition. This means that the plant can start to droop if you’re watering it too little or too much.
If there’s no damage to the leaves, the problem is probably underwatering. If the leaves look yellow or show damage in the center, especially at the base of the plant, your Pilea is drowning.
If your plant is looking floppy, check the soil. Unless it already feels damp to the touch, your Chinese money plant should perk up again after a good drink.
Pilea is no longer the height of house plant popularity, but it became such a trend because it looks fantastic in a home. That’s not going to change anytime soon. Pilea care is so easy to learn, and the unusual shape of the leaves makes the plant look so unique, that there’s really no reason not to try growing it.
Pay attention to it, listen to what it’s telling you about your watering regime, and the two of you will get along fine. If you get into taking cuttings, you’re going to be addicted to this plant in no time. We’re sure you’ll find space for one in every room of the house.