Origins of a Mysterious Plant – Pilea Peperomioides

Origins of the Pilea Peperomioides also known as the Chinese money plant

Pilea Peperomioides is known by many nicknames: the Chinese money plant, the UFO plant, the friendship plant, missionary plant, and pancake plant just to name a few. It’s also a plant that baffled western botanists for decades. Until recently, Pilea Peperomioides were almost impossible to find in North America. Owning one in the Americas meant ordering it from over seas.

Pilea Peperomioides are also known as the friendship plant because propagating them is very easy.

As you might have guessed from the nickname “Chinese money plant”, Pilea Peperomioides is native only to China. In 1946 a Norwegian missionary named Agnar Espegren brought the plant to Europe, giving it another one of its nicknames – the “missionary plant”. Because of how easy the plant is to propagate (giving off pups by itself) it spread around Norway by amateur gardeners without scientists knowing.

Pilea Peperomioides Flowers – Photo by Magpie Ilya

European botanists struggled to classify the plant, thinking it was a Peperomia. They had little exposure to the Chinese money plant, and asked for more samples including flowers. In the late 1970s, British botanists were finally sent male flower samples which allowed them to identify it not as a Peperomia, but as a Urticaceae. At this point, the general public in the British Isles and Scandinavia knew more about Pilea Peperomioides than professionals. Civilians gave their Pilea babies to friends, making it not uncommon as a houseplant in parts of Europe in the 1970s and 80s. However botanists in the area still hadn’t even seen a female flower.

The Chinese money plant has also been known to symbolize abundance and prosperity. It’s been used in Feng Shui by placing the plant in particular parts of the home or office to encourage good fortune.

Pilea Peperomioides in 2019

The Pilea is quickly becoming one of the trendiest plants this year. While as recently as March 2018 the website Green Profit stated:

“Although there’s a good supply of it in Europe we’ve been told, it seems Pinterest and other social media outlets have made P. peperomioides a hit with demand far exceeding grower supply. The folks at Harster Greenhouses in Ontario, Canada, for example, are trying to build their stock of the pilea and estimate it will be a couple of years before this plant is readily available everywhere.”

The demand for this plant has caused plenty of sellers to price their stock high. However in 2019, prices for the Chinese money plant seem to be dropping and it’s much easier to find. This is likely similar to how it spread throughout Europe without botanists knowing. Since the plant grows babies on its own, it’s easy for anyone to propagate and pass along.

We’re lucky to live in a time where foreign house plants are now so easy to get a hold of. This is one of my favorite plants, and one of the most interesting! I would highly recommend it to anyone with a collection of houseplants.


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