GROWING THE PEPEROMIA

There are about 1.000 species in this genus and a number are important house and greenhouse plants. The individual species often vary considerably in appearance and habit, but they have very attractive foliage shapes and colours. They are usually neat or reasonably compact, and can be grown in relatively small pots or containers. With a few exceptions, they are moderately easy to grow. Some produce peculiar catkin-like creamy-white flowers. which may be quite decorative, but the foliage is usually of the most importance. 0’ the several species grown as house-plants. the one likely to prove difficult is P. argyreia (syn. P. sandersii), from Brazil. It is popularly called the watermelon plant, but should not be confused with Pellionia repens, which is also given this name.

P. argyreia is a charming little plant. excellent for bottle gardens. It forms a clump of stout, reddish stems carrying broadly spear-shaped leaves, beautifully banded in green and silvery-green. It rarely exceeds 20cm (5 in.) in height. This species should be given about 13 deg C (55 deg F) minimum, or a little higher. It must be carefully watered in winter. It has a marked tendency to rot at the base of its stems, much more so that the other species, and many plants seem to be lost this way.

P. caperata is of a similarly neat, dwarf habit. The leaves are quite different, being smaller and very corrugated. They are deep green, but there are some variegated forms with cream markings. from spring to winter, quaint creamy-white flowers, looking like erect mouse-tails. and borne on pinkish stems, are sent up in great profusion. These add greatly to the attraction of the plant. It originates from tropical America, and is liable to rot at the base if a minimum temperature of L0 deg C (50 deg F) is not maintained.

P. griseoargentea (syn. P. hederifoUa), the ivy peperomia. is very similar in appearance. but the leaves are not nearly so corrugated and they are greyish-green, often with a metallic sheen. This is another Brazilian species and needs similar care.

P. magnoliifolia, desert privet, from Panama and the West Indies, forms a bushy and shrubby plant about 25cm (10in) in height. The leaves are much larger and about 5cm (2in) in diameter. They are fleshy and glossy and variegated in cream and green. The true species has plain leaves and is rarely grown as a houseplant. The form

‘Variegata’ is mostly creamy-green, particularly in young plants, the colour changing to pale green as the plant ages. The cultivar ‘Green Gold’ has larger. cream-bordered foliage and changes much less as it ages. P. obtusifolla, popularly called baby rubber plant, is of similar habit. In this case, the leaves are rather smaller, fleshy, oval and dark green, sometimes with a reddish tinge at the edge. There is also a cream bordered form. It originates from Tropical America and southern Florida, but in fact seems to be one of the easiest species, surviving lower temperatures. The whitish flower spikes contrast nicely against the dark foliage and are borne from summer to autumn. P. serpens variegata (syn. P. scandens variegata), the cupid peperomia. from Peru, is a trailer, but it can be encouraged to climb erect as well as being useful for hanging containers. The stems

can exceed 60cm (2ft) long and in ideal conditions reach a considerable length. The stems are green and the leafstalks pink. The foliage is heart-shaped and green with a cream border, but mostly an overall creamy colour when immature. The leaves of young plants have a tendency to fall easily, but this annoying characteristic is fortunately lost as the plant main res.

P. glabella, wax privet, from Tropical America, is of similar habit but with smaller leaves. The stems are reddish and again there is a plain green true species which is rarely grown. P. marmorata resembles both P. argyreia, in leaf shape and marking and P. ca-perata in its corrugated surface, which however is only slight in comparison. The colouring is brownish and a metallic shiny green, giving the common name silver heart. It has a similar clump-forming habit, but is easier to grow.

Most peperomias can be grown in any good potting compost, but the pots should be well crocked and if a few pieces of charcoal can be added it is an advantage. In nature, the plants often grow like epiphytic bromeliads. They also rarely need large pots. Most of the small, clump-forming species do well in 10-13cm (4-5in) pots. Give a position in good light, but avoid direct sunlight. In summer, water can be freely given, but in winter watering needs great care. Try to maintain very slightly moist conditions and keep water away from the base, where there is a cluster of stems. Although it is also important to keep the minimum temperature suggested, the air should preferably have some movement and in winter it should not be too humid. This does not imply dry air. since the plants dislike centrally heated homes with a dry non-humidified atmosphere. If the air is too stagnant, there is some-

times a problem with the fungus grey mould [Botrytis cinerea), and again it is among the clump of stems where this furry mould will usually begin rotting the tissues. In the case ofP. argyreia and P. serpens (syn. P. scandens), extra care is needed. Hxcessive watering and constant wet conditions at the roots should never be permitted. It is very unusual for insect pests to prove troublesome. Potting should be done in late spring, so that generally warmer conditions can give a good start. The clump-forming species can be propagated by simple division. and the trailers from stem cuttings rooted in the normal way for cuttings of that type. Little trouble should be experienced given adequate warmth.

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