These diverse, attractive, low-maintenance plants are due for a revival in garden centres.

Peperomia obtusifolia 'Variegata' - photo: Graham Clarke
Peperomia obtusifolia 'Variegata' - photo: Graham Clarke

This year’s TV-backed launch in the Netherlands of FloraHolland’s P. ‘Happy Bean’ suggests Peperomia could be in for a revival after years in the retail doldrums.

More than 20 species and varieties of Peperomia are in common use as house plants and they represent a useful low, green infill on benches in the indoor section. They have been around since Victorian times, but it is only in the past couple of decades that they have been grown on a wide commercial scale, which has lead to a number of variegated and red-leaved forms to be bred.

Although tens of thousands of Peperomia come in from the Continent annually, this is not a burgeoning market. While the easy-to-look-after plants are popular with consumers, they do not command premium prices and even specialist nursery growers seem downbeat about them as a revenue stream.

The plants are generally pest- and disease-free, and are certainly attractive either as specimen plants or in planted displays. Native to tropical and subtropical America, their usually low-growing foliage is diverse in size, shape, colour and texture.
The odd-shaped flowers are usually immediately recognisable, though times and frequency of flowering vary. Most types produce a long, thin, white or cream-coloured flower spike.

The heart-shaped, deep green leaves of P. caperata are borne on fairly long, red-tinged stalks. They are deeply veined and have an attractive, corrugated surface. Tall, white, poker-like flower spikes, also with red stems, emerge above the mound of foliage in summer and early autumn.
The trailing forms are much less common than the bushy species. P. scandens Award of Garden Merit has heart-shaped leaves that are 5cm long carried alternately on pinkish stems that can trail up to 1.2m.

P. scandens ‘Variegata’ is the variety most commonly offered at retail. The young leaves are often almost entirely cream but a green centre develops as the plant matures so it ends up with mid-green leaves with a wide, creamy yellow margin. When grown in pots this variety does not often produce flowers. It is more likely to flower if grown in planted indoor arrangements or even bottle gardens.

The foliage of the variegated kinds requires bright conditions to maintain colouring. Some direct sunlight is beneficial in winter, but overexposure to the sun can scorch the leaves. Occasionally pinching out shoot tips promotes branching.
Problems are few. The roots will rot if they are too wet so watering should always be sparing. Mealy bugs can pose a problem sometimes, and the plants are generally sensitive to cold and draughts.

What the specialists say

Joyce Bushen, owner, Halsway Nursery, Somerset “Unfortunately, the Peperomia genus is not enjoying much popularity at the moment, mainly as fashions have changed and people want large, statuesque plants. We started our nursery almost 45 years ago and in those days they were all the rage.
“When we do get asked for them people want the variegated or fancy leaved types. P. scandens ‘Variegata’, which is a dainty trailing variety, is probably the most popular. P. obtusifolia ‘Tricolor’ is also recommended. It has spoon-shaped, waxy, thick foliage and it seems to thrive on neglect. The only thing you should make sure of is that you are not over-watering it.
“We used to stock P. caperata ‘Little Fantasy’ Award of Garden Merit (AGM) — it’s a nice cultivar with lovely, dark green, corrugated foliage. However, we’ve de-listed it as we propagate our own plants and this one was very reluctant to take.”

Alan Banner, house plant manager, Bridgemere Nurseries, Cheshire “Interest in Peperomia has never been that great in the 13 years I’ve worked for Bridgemere, yet these are good and useful little plants, particularly as they don’t get any pests or diseases to speak of. They are increasingly being used as in-fill material in interior landscaping work.
“We tend to get asked for them in mixed colours. The one name we do stock and which sells well is P. caperata ‘Luna Red’ AGM.”
Kenneth Macmillan, UK agent, Floravision, Denmark “We are one of the largest houseplant suppliers into the UK, but the market for Peperomia is not particularly large — it represents less than one per cent of our UK sales. We sell named forms in mixed batches to garden centre groups, and our contract grower is Gartneriet Tingdal of Denmark.”

In practice

Julie Griggs, houseplant supervisor, Priory Farm Plant Centre, Surrey
“Although there are some lovely variegated forms that are best seen on their own as specimen plants, most of the Peperomia we sell are used as components in planted basket arrangements.
“We use the plain green, glossy-leaved types in baskets with flowering Kalanchoe and African violets. The more fancy reddish or corrugated-leaved types go well with ferns.
“With potted forms on the sales bench I tend to place them with other foliage plants such as the polka-dot leaf (Hypoestes) — they seem to complement each other particularly well.”

Species and cultivars

•    P. argyreia Award of Garden Merit (AGM) is known as the watermelon Peperomia for its leathery, deep green, silver-striped leaves that resemble the pattern on a watermelon. It grows up to 22.5cm tall with a 15cm spread. It may be found under its old name of P. sandersii.
•    P. caperata has mound-forming, long-stemmed, deeply corrugated, heart-shaped, deep green leaves on pinkish stalks. White or light green flower spikes appear irregularly. It is bushy, growing to a height and spread of 15cm.
•    P. caperata ‘Emerald Ripple’ AGM is deep green with darker stripes along its veins.
•    P. caperata ‘Little Fantasy’ AGM is a dwarf, dark green plant.
•    P. caperata ‘Luna Red’ AGM has dark crimson leaves and stems.
•    P. clusiifolia has obovate, slightly concave, green leaves that are red-edged and purple-tinged when young. It grows to 20cm in height and spread.
•    P. clusiifolia ‘Variegata’ has red-edged, creamy variegated leaves.
•    P. fraseri has rosette-forming, heart-shaped, shiny dark green leaves with red veins, which are pale beneath.
•    P. glabella, or the wax privet Peperomia, has spreading, slightly obovate leaves dotted with black glands. It grows to 15cm high with 20cm spread.
•    P. glabella ‘Variegata’ has cream-yellow leaf margins.
•    P. griseoargentea AGM is also known as P. hederifolia. It has rosette-forming, heart-shaped, silvery grey leaves with copper-tinted edges. Reaches 15cm in height and 20cm in spread.
•    P. incana has stiff, broadly ovate, grey-green leaves with white woolly hairs.
•    P. maculosa is known as the radiator plant. It has robust, erect becoming straggly, ovate, shiny, dark green leaves.
•    P. ‘Happy Bean’ is a recent Dutch introduction, which is said to resemble French beans growing in star-like formations. It is compact and requires minimal maintenance.
•    P. marmorata has rosette-forming, heart-shaped, dull to bluish-green leaves striped silvery-grey with indented veins.
•    P. metallica has bushy, elliptic dark red leaves with a broad silver central band.
•    P. nivalis is variably creeping or erect with boat-shaped and keeled bright green leaves that are whitish beneath and crowded at stem tips. It has anise-scented sap.
•    P. obtusifolia AGM grows to 15-30cm tall with a 30cm spread. Stiff and upright, it has elliptic, leathery, green leaves.
•    P. obtusifolia ‘Greengold’ has green foliage with golden-yellow markings.
•    P. obtusifolia ‘Tricolor’ has variegated green and yellow leaves with pink-tinged edges and a bushy habit.
•    P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ has a bushy habit and spade-shaped, fleshy leaves that are pale green and cream.
•    P. orba ‘Pixie’ is a dwarf form of the species, which is not widely available. It has small, mid-green round leaves.
•    P. prostrata is a rare, creeping epiphyte. It has small, round, button-sized leaves of deep green, with a pattern of silver blotches.
•    P. rubella is erect, becoming straggly, with whorls of elliptic, pale-veined leaves, which are coppery beneath.
•    P. scandens AGM is a trailing plant with heart-shaped, waxy, bright green leaves, pinkish green stems and insignificant blooms. The species can be used as a climber, growing to 1m in height.
•    P. scandens ‘Variegata’ has leaves with broad yellow margins, pink leaf stalks and stems.
•    P. velutina AGM is upright and bushy with broadly elliptic, fleshy, velvety dark green leaves that have pale veins and are red beneath.
•    P. verticillata is also known as P. pulchella. It is erect, with rounded to obovate leaves that are pale green above and pink-red beneath, and have soft white hairs. It grows to 50cm.

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