This huge genus offers a wide range of interesting foliage, does well indoors and is easy to grow, says Miranda Kimberley.

P. ‘Rosso’ - image: Floramedia
P. ‘Rosso’ - image: Floramedia

Peperomia are small, easy-to-grow houseplants that have interesting, often variegated foliage and cope well with indoor conditions. Their compact size makes them ideal for being placed on a windowsill, desktop or in a terrarium or dish garden.

There are around 1,500 species, making it a huge genus inside the pepper family, Piperaceae. They are found in tropical and subtropical regions across the world but the majority of them are found in Central and South America. They are generally compact evergreen perennials that grow on the mossy floor of the rainforest.

While nearly all Peperomia are compact — under 30cm high — the plants do vary quite a lot in their appearance. They can be bushy, upright or trailing.

They are grown for their ornamental foliage and leaf shape varies from oval, heart-shaped to lance-like, and they can be smooth or wrinkled. Leaf colour ranges from green to red or grey and many have stripes, margins or marbling in contrasting colours. The flowers produced by Peperomia are unremarkable — tiny and borne on little spikes.

Peperomia are perhaps not the most popular houseplant in the UK but if you see them in garden centres they will likely have P. caperata, which has heart-shaped, wrinkled, dark-green or purple leaves.

The beautifully named watermelon peperomia, P. argyreia (syn. P. sandersii) Award of Garden Merit (AGM), has silvery-white and green markings on its leaves that resemble the skin of a watermelon. One that is good for a hanging basket is P. scandens AGM, a trailing species with heart-shaped leaves that offers many variegated types.

In their native habitat Peperomia are generally growing in dappled shade, but their foliage colours up better in medium-to-bright sunlight. Watering is a bit of an art. They should not dry out too much but they also do not respond well to overwatering, either wilting or developing raised scab-like protrusions. So water sparingly in the winter but regularly in the growing season, letting the soil dry out in between.
They do not really need fertiliser but a little can pep them up and make them grow a touch faster. Apart from rotting if overwatered, these houseplants present few problems, though mealybug can be
a pest, hiding in the leaf axils.

What the specialists say

Rich Meredith, co-owner,

"Peperomia is generally an easy-going houseplant that comes in many different varieties, all with quite distinctive and different looks. There is so much choice out there these days it’s almost certain you’ll find one that will suit your home perfectly. In short, we love it.

"The most popular and standout peperomia are the ones you’re most likely to find in shops and garden centres anyway, which makes finding the following easy. Look out for these: P. caperata (wrinkled-leaves peperomia), P. magnoliifolia (desert privet) and P. sandersii (watermelon peperomia). All do well in typical homes or offices.

"They are quite tolerant of many conditions and will even grow in places without any natural light.
Do be careful when it comes to watering peperomia plants, however, as it’s easy to overdo it and cause rot to set in.

"Rot is the main problem that affects peperomia, which will eventually result in the entire plant dying. Other problems show themselves through the leaves — for example, leaves with brown tips and edges indicate the temperature being too cold or exposure to draughts. If the leaves take on a washed-out and dull look it could be a sign that you’ve been giving it too much sunlight."

In practice

John Winterson, deputy buyer, RHS Plant Centres

"The different types of foliage make peperomia very appealing and they are easy to pick up without the fear of damaging them. They make great feature plants on a table or windowsill and their robust stature and longevity makes them an ideal gift. All they need is bright light and not too much water, and they are generally pest and disease free, so easy to care for. Dropped into the appropriate colour pot cover can make them fit in with any setting.

"Being easy to care for with a long shelf life, they are a great houseplant for us to stock. We aim to stock them all year round and display them with our other houseplants.

"The Wisley Plant Centre’s best-selling peperomia are ‘Rosso’ and ‘Lilian’. P. ‘Rosso’ has wonderfully shiny leaves, deeply striated with bright-red undersides and fun upright flower spikes."

Species and varieties

P. argyreia AGM (H1C), or the watermelon peperomia, is a bushy species with ovate green leaves, attractively striped with silver bands between the veins, and borne on red stalks. Has tiny greenish flowers on short spikes. Height: 20cm.

P. caperata, the radiator plant, is a bushy species with heart-shaped, deep-green leaves on red-tinged stalks that are deeply veined and have an attractive, corrugated surface. White poker-like flower spikes with red stems emerge above foliage in summer and early autumn.
P. caperata ‘Luna Red’ AGM (H1C) has heart-shaped, deep-purplish/crimson leaves with deeply impressed veins. Height: 20cm.
P. caperata ‘Red Ripple’ has reddish-purple leaves that are fissured and deeply textured.
P. caperata ‘Suzanne’ is a lovely variety featuring silver foliage with fun creases and texture.
P. caperata ‘Theresa’ is a striking variety with dark-red/purple foliage and an interesting texture.

P. clusiifolia, the red-edge peperomia, has slightly concave dark-green leaves that are red-edged and purple-tinged when young. Height: 20cm.

P. griseoargentea AGM (H1C), the ivy-leaf pepper, forms a rosette of broadly ovate or heart-shaped, silvery-grey leaves with reddish veins and slender spikes of tiny green flowers. Height: 15cm.

P. obtusifolia AGM (H1C), the baby rubber plant, has leathery, broadly elliptic leaves that are either shiny green or variegated and tiny white flowers in dense spikes. An upright type. Height: 25cm.

P. quadrangularis (syn. P. angulata), the beetle peperomia, is a small houseplant with creeping stems. The dark-green leaves have attractive lighter-green stripes, adding to its year-round interest.

P. scandens ‘Variegata’, the variegated cupid peperomia, is a trailing variety with heart-shaped, light-green leaves that have broad yellow margins, and pink leaf stalks and stems. Height: 20cm.

Thank you to Floramedia, which supplied the images for this article from its photo library

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