Indoor gardeners will find among the Peperomias a wide choice of easy-to-care for houseplants, satisfying because of their adaptability to home environment and their diversity of leaf pattern. If you know only Emerald Ripple and Watermelon Begonia, your acquaintance is much too restricted, for among the 15 or so species that are widely available commercially there are vining types, succulent types, variegated forms and miniatures.
The name Peperomia means "similar to pepper." Peperomias are members of the same family as our black pepper and are tropical in origin. Mary have becaome popular as houseplants because of their small, compact growth; most grow less than a foot tall. Moreover, they are slow growers and will keep within their allotted space. The catkin-like flower stalks produced above the foliage are curious but the foliage is the attraction. Although they vary widely in appearance, all required the same care.
As houseplants, Peperomias generally need warmth; they will survive low, temperature but cease to grow if the thermometer goes below 50 degrees.
An outstanding characteristic is their ability to endure low light conditions, which makes them suited for use on coffee table, bookshelf, office desk or windowsill. Of course, good light, such as an east window, will result in stronger, more compact growth. In late fall or early spring they can have direct sunlight, but for most of the year bright reflected light is best.
Watering is critical. If you have a heavy hand with the watering can, temper it or you will surely kill your Peperomias. The soil surface should become moderately dry between thorough waterings. Use tepid water. Water sparingly during the winter.
Peperomias are expecially susceptible to a stem-rotting fungus that develops from over-watering. Many gardeners think that Peperomias, because of their thick leaves and succulent stems, are easiest of all houseplants to water. Be not deceived; like many succulents they are more likely to deteriorate from over-watering than from underwatering.
When a plant falls prey to the stem rot, you may have to dispose of the whole plant. If you catch it in time, you can progagate new plants from parts not attacked by the fungus and dispose of the remainder.
A plant that has grown to fill the pot and is sending roots out through the drainage hole should be repotted; do this in the spring, using a pot of the next larger size and a mix rich in peat moss or leaf mold.
Liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength is suitable for Peperomias; apply every 3 to 4 months.
Peperomias are propagated by stem, leaf, or joint cuttings and by division, depending on the species. Trimming and pruning to groom the plants provides a ready source of propagating material.
The common names and cultivar designations that have been applied to Peperomia species are descriptive as well as revealing of our tendency to describe something in terms of something else.
'Emerald Ripple' was derived from the wrinkle leaved species, Peperomia caperata. Its rich deep green leaves are deeply coorugated, rising on reddish stems 3 to 4 inches long to form mounds of foliage. 'Tricolor Ripple' was introduced in 1957; its corrugated leaves are margined with white, with red at the base spreading into the veins. These make good dish garden plants.
If you must call it watermelon because of its stripes, call it Watermelon Peperomia (not begonia for it is not a begonia). Botanically it is Peperomia sandersii. If forms a rosette 6 to 8 inches tall with broad leaves handed with silver stipes and held on deep red petioles. It is commonly propagated by leaf stem cuttings, which take many weeks to from a new plant.
A real sweetheart is the "Sweetheart Peperomia," Peperomia verschaffeltii from Brazil. Its bluish-green leaves on short red-dotted petioles are banded with silver between recessed yellowish veins.
Among the Peperomias that have acquired names because of resemblance to something else are the "baby rubber plant" (P. obtusifolia), the "ivy peperomia" (P. griseo-argentea), and the "Philodendrom peperomia" (P. scandens.).
Peperomia obtusifolia is also known as "oval leaf." It grows to 10 or 12 inches, bearing waxy green fleshy leaves and it has long been cultivated for dish gardens. The variegated form, with which most indoor gardeners are well acquainted, has light green leaves edged with creamy white. It too grows tall and like the green form, the weight of the succulent stems and leaves bends the stems into a curve so that while it is not a tall plant, the stems may be long enough to drape from a hanging container.
The "ivy peperomia" was introduced into Europe as Peperomia hederaefolia, meaning its leaves look like English ivy. That resemblance is hard to see; the quilted leaves are heart-shaped, grayish-silver on long petioles. A mutation, named "Blackie" because of its dark hue, may be found in some nursery lists.
Peperomia scandens and P. sacndens variegata are the "philodendron peperomias." From the specific name "scandens" we know that it is its nature to climb or creep. The variegated form is rank in growth but useful for baskets.
In "Little Plants for Small Spaces," Published by M. Evans Co., 1974 ($8.95) Elvin McDonald has listed and described the following miniature peperomias:
P. nivalis, a small plant of clustering upright rosettes.
P. rubella, a small bush of silver-veined leaves on red stems.
"Little Fantasy", a variety of P. caperata, with deeply quilted almost black-green leaves.
P. prostrata, a creeping trailing miniature with variegated leaves.
All of these require high humidity can be used in miniature gardens where air circulation is good and occasionally in terrariums if the soil is not waterlogged.