Pilea Peperomioides: Caring for Chinese Money Plants

Also known as pancake plant, coin plant, or Chinese money plant, Pilea peperomioides is closely related to stinging nettle and part of the Urticaceae family. Don’t worry, this plant doesn’t have those irritating stinging hairs that other plants in the family often have.

While the plants may rarely flower indoors, the inflorescence is small and not notable.

Westerners became aware of this herbaceous perennial, which is native to the Yunnan Province in Southern China in damp, rocky, mountainous areas, in the 1970s. In 1978, Mrs. D. Walport of Northolt, England sent a sample to the Royal Kew Gardens for identification. Experts there didn’t immediately recognize it, and eventually determined that it had been first named in 1912 after being spotted in China by Scottish botanist George Forrest. 

From there, the plant lingered. It didn’t gain much attention until the early 2000s, when it finally caught on and growers started cultivating it for commercial use.

Now, you can find it in most nurseries and houseplant lovers appreciate it for its sturdy, undemanding display.

  • Genus: Pilea
  • Species: peperomioides
  • Native To: China
  • Sun Exposure: Bright indirect or diffused light
  • Soil Preference: Well-draining loam
  • Soil pH: 6.0-7.0
  • Temperature tolerance: 50-90°F
  • Toxicity: Non toxic to pets and humans

Caring for Pilea peperomioides:

These plants need temperatures above 55°F, so keep them away from exterior doors or single-pane windows if you live in a region that experiences cold temperatures.

You should also protect the plant from temperatures above 90°F, which means that you shouldn’t place them in a window that gets hot in the afternoon heat. Keep plants away from heat and air conditioning vents, not only because these tend to get too warm or cold, but because the moving air dries out the plants rapidly.

Light

This isn’t a plant that revels in bright sunlight. It needs to be kept out of direct sun, so don’t place it in or too close to a window. The exceptions are windows with sheer curtains or a north-facing window.

Otherwise, place the plant where it receives bright light but no direct sunlight. Typically, a spot a few feet away from a south, west, or east-facing window will fit the bill. 

The plant will tolerate some direct morning sun if you gradually introduce it to the light. You can accomplish this by placing the plant in morning sun for half an hour and then moving it to its usual spot. Add another half hour the next day and so on.

If you keep your pancake plant in too dark of an area, it will become leggy. Don’t worry, it’s easy to fix this problem. Pinch off the excessively leggy leaves and move the plant into slightly more light. It will replace the pinched stems with bushier growth.

Be sure to rotate your plant regularly, or it will grow unevenly.

Soil and Containers

Your typical potting soil will work perfectly well for your coin plants. They need well-draining, water-retentive, loamy soil, which describes most typical potting soil. If you want to make your own, combine four parts loam, two parts peat, and one part perlite.

These plants have small root systems, so they don’t need large pots. Excessively large pots encourage overwatering, which can lead to root rot. A four-inch pot is sufficient. The material isn’t important, but the pot must have a drainage hole.

Water

Although these plants are fairly adaptable and tough, they can be confusing for some people when it comes to water. They do best in high humidity, with a relative humidity above 60%. At the same time, they prefer that their roots stay relatively dry.

In other words, this plant likes water, but not at the root level. If you picture its native environment, with rocky soil and high humidity, you can see how this plant adapted to these conditions.

Before you water, test the soil by sticking a finger into it or by inserting a soil moisture meter. The soil should be dry two-thirds deep. That means if your pot is six inches deep, the soil should be dry down to four inches.

Add water and then feel the soil. It should feel moist but not soaking wet. If you were to ball the soil up in your hand, it should fall apart rather than sticking together. If you imagine the texture of a well-wrung-out sponge, it should feel like that.

Be sure to drain the catchment container 30 minutes after watering.

If you don’t have sufficient humidity naturally, there are a few ways you can raise the humidity near the plant. One option is to keep it in the bathroom or near the kitchen sink. Another option is to group plants together. Finally, you can use a small humidifier.

Warm air holds water better than cool air, so keep the area warm to help maintain humidity.

Spraying plants doesn’t raise humidity for more than a few minutes, and setting plants in a pebble tray doesn’t increase humidity around the leaves of the plant because the water moves away from the plant as it evaporates.

Feeding

Feed your plants starting in the early spring and continue through summer. Stop feeding in early fall and don’t feed at all during the winter when the plant is dormant. 

Use a mild, balanced fertilizer with an NPK of 3-3-3 or dilute a stronger fertilizer by half. This plant can tolerate both foliar and soil feeding. Feed every three weeks.

Maintenance

Pilea peperomioides doesn’t require much maintenance. If any of the leaves turn yellow or brown, remove them with a clean pair of scissors or clippers. You can pinch back the leaves to the closest stem to encourage bushier growth, as well.

Wipe the plants regularly with a damp cloth to remove any dust. Dust interrupts the plant’s ability to take in oxygen and light in order to photosynthesize.

Propagation

Remember how we talked about poor Pilea peperomioides being largely ignored until recently? Part of what brought it into the public eye is that a Norwegian missionary took a plant from China and propagated it. He gave it to friends and family as gifts and they did the same. Eventually, the plant became a token of friendship.

That was possible because pancake plants are extremely easy to propagate. There are three ways to make more.

First, the plant sends out offshots or pups. These can be gently removed from the plant by gently teasing them away from the parent. You might need to use some scissors to clip the roots away. You might find it easier to remove the parent plant from the container and remove the pups that way.

Once the pups are separated, plant them in potting soil and water well. You can treat them as adult plants right away.

A new plant can also be created from a single leaf. To do this, cut away a healthy leaf at the base, taking care to include part of the stem. If you don’t include stem, the leaf won’t be able to form roots.

Place the leaf in water and set it in an area with bright, indirect light. Change the water daily to prevent fungus or mold from forming. Once the leaf has formed roots, which can take several months, you can plant it in potting soil.

You can also cut off a trunk and allow it to root. The place on the parent plant where you cut will send out new growth, and the severed trunk will form new roots, resulting in two plants. This is also a good way to encourage the parent plant to form pups. Just keep in mind that if you cut the main stem, your plant likely won’t ever grow as tall as it could.

Place the cut stem in water and set it in a spot with bright, indirect light. Again, be sure to change the water regularly. Roots should begin forming in a week or two. Once the root system looks large and healthy, plant in potting mix.

Common Problems, Pests, and Diseases

Soft stems and yellow brown leaves are a sign of overwatering and potentially root rot. When this occurs, reduce watering. If the leaves continue to turn yellow and soft, remove the plant from its container and brush away the soil. Clean out the container and trim of any dead or soggy roots.

Replant in fresh, clean potting soil and be cautious not to overwater, following the guidelines above.

Dropping leaves can be a sign of a lack of nutrients, too much moisture, the plant being exposed to temperatures that are too low. If this occurs, examine your plant’s environment and check the roots for rot. If your plant is near a window or door, move it to a warmer location. Add fertilizer and check the plant again in a few weeks for signs of new growth.

Plants may be infested by aphids, spider mites, or mealybugs. Aphids and spider mites can be dealt with by isolating the plant and spray it with a steady stream of water to remove them. You’ll need to do this once a week until the infestation is gone. Mealybugs should be gently scraped of with a butter knife. You can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil to treat an infestation.