Friday, May 20, 2011

Peperomia Obtusifolia Variegata

To say that all the houseplants I’ve grown over the years have been treated equally would be a lie. I do tend to favour some more than others. For different reasons. I usually have a preference for the more attractive plants that have colourful and interesting foliage, or the more unusual ones like the Adenium obesum and the Beaucarnea recurvata with their eccentric, bulbous base. Sometimes I’m partial to plants that belong to a group that I happen to be collecting at the time. For example, for awhile I was on the lookout for Dracaenas, hoping to add as many different ones to my home as possible. Throughout that period they were in the spotlight, so I paid a little more attention to their needs. During another ‘neurotic’ phase, I starting bringing home a variety of spider plants (Chlorophytum) that ended up in hanging baskets in front of almost every window in the house.

Then there was the African Violet phase, which lasted for a few months. After many years of taking no interest in them, I picked up a few in hopes of finally getting at least one of them to bloom for me - something that doesn’t seem to happen readily in my house. In all honesty, it’s my fault that these pretty plants fail to flower, because I eventually lose interest in them and stop providing the care they need (adequate light, sufficient humidity), so they don’t reward me with flowers, which I deserve. But whenever the desire to try again hits me, I promise that “I’ll do better this time” and “stay focused on their needs” and “commit myself to this mission”, and I do – for awhile. Then I neglect them. Again. And they refuse to flower. Again.

So I’m keen on attractive plants, weird and unusual plants, and plants that happen to fall into the ‘craze of the moment’ category. But I also have a tendency of eventually favouring certain specimens that I previously didn’t like, but do now, simply because they’re the ‘more behaved’ plants (growing happily while making very few demands). As a result, I may purchase a plant that I’m so-so about and it may end up becoming one of my most cherished (and pampered) simply because of its uncomplicated demeanor. This doesn’t happen very often but it does happen.

One of those so-so purchases that moved up the plant chain because of its simple nature is the Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Variegata’. It’s not that I didn’t like this Peperomia whenever I saw it at local retailers, I did; it just never was on my list of ‘must have’ plants – until I brought one home. And the only reason I brought one home in the first place is because it looked so healthy and attractive when I first spotted it, I just couldn’t help myself. Well, it turned out to be much more than just another pretty face; the plant became one of my top performers, and one of my most cherished specimens. So plants that suck up to me by being ‘good’ have found a winning approach, and it scores them a few points – and a little extra TLC.


Care Tips For Peperomia Obtusifolia Variegata

Commonly-referred to as the ‘variegated baby rubber plant’, which can be quite confusing to a buyer since it has no relation to the actual ‘rubber plant’ (Ficus elastica), Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ is a very popular indoor favourite that belongs to the pepper family, Piperaceae, whose best known species is Piper nigrum (Black Pepper). Black Pepper is a flowering vine that is cultivated for its fruit, which is generally dried and used as a spice and seasoning – pepper.

The Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ has more than 1,000 cousins in its Peperomia clan; the majority of the species are native to the tropical areas of Central and South America, but a few grow naturally in Florida. Visually, Peperomias vary greatly in appearance; there are trailing, bushy and upright types with foliage that also varies greatly in colouring, variegation, texture and size (from one inch to six inches long). Leaves can be quilted or smooth, variegated or plain and succulent or thin – even hairy.

The glossy, oval, fleshy and multicoloured leaves of the P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ come in shades of dark green, olive green and creamy white. This attractive plant is often used in dish gardens, bottle gardens and in other situations where space is limited. In addition, during holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter and Mother’s Day, you may find a Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ planted snugly beside a Kalanchoe and an Ivy in a gift basket. This is a very common, popular houseplant that can be found almost anywhere – greenhouses, supermarkets, big box stores – and throughout the year.

Robust and easy to care for, about the only thing that this plant is at risk of is rotting from over-watering. Because of its small root system, it’s best to choose a shallow pot to grow it in. Together with that, use an airy, fast-draining potting mixture that will prevent the sensitive roots from growing in a waterlogged container. Always water with care. Allow the growing medium to dry out considerably between each watering session, but never allow it to dry out completely to the point where leaves wilt. P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ can handle under-watering much better than it can handle over-watering, but not if it becomes chronic. If you allow the soil to dry out completely too often, the plant will drop healthy leaves, which can be quite alarming. During the winter, be extra careful not to over-water. As an alternative, grow this plant in hydroculture; the plant converts and adapts quickly and effortlessly to the water-based system.

P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ grows well in a variety of light levels, including shade, but does best in a bright location that receives some direct sunlight. You can grow your plant in a location that offers bright, indirect light and it will do fine, but the preference is a spot where a little early morning eastern or some late afternoon western sunshine is available. Although it will tolerate it, don’t place P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ where it’s too shady; the variegation of the plant will be lost. You may have to protect the plant from the direct rays of the sun during the warmer summer months; watch your plant for signs of discontentment.

Average household temperatures between 16°C (60°F) – 24°C (75°F) are fine. The plant prefers to be kept warm; always protect it from cold drafts. Do not expose to temperatures below 10°C (50° F). Humidity is not critical; the dry air of a heated home is tolerated extremely well. Wash the leaves of your plant with a soft cloth occasionally to keep them clean, shiny and free of pests.

In time, especially if grown in areas where light is inadequate, your P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata’ will become tall and leggy. You can prevent this by regularly pinching back the plant to keep it bushy. In addition, trim back young plants a number of times to encourage them to branch out. You can start new plants with the cuttings; they root easily in soil and in water.

Although they are capable of being attacked, Peperomias in general are not very susceptible to insect infestations of any kind, which makes them that much more desirable as indoor plants. While researching for information, I also discovered that one of the things these plants can suffer from is a plant virus called ringspot. Symptoms include distorted leaves with necrotic or chlorotic lesions on them; infected foliage usually falls off the plant. The treatment recommended is to destroy infected plants. (I’ve personally never experienced this virus with any Peperomia so I cannot advise further. If anyone has further information, or has dealt with this problem, please share some experience.)


I suppose it’s easy to favour houseplants that don’t give you a hard time – like the beautiful Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Variegata’. Pick one up if you haven’t already; you’ll be happy you did.

11 comments:

  1. I was just given one of these to take care of for a college project. Thanks for the tips

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  2. Excellent page. I ended up here as my P. obtusifolia 'Variegata' hasn't been pruned in the 1 3/4 years since I bought it. It is now some 16" high and the pot is toppling over. I have to decide how far back to prune it.

    It is also due for another pot upgrade. It did make it from 4" to 5". You write to "use an airy, fast-draining potting mixture." If I were to stop at my local hardware store are they going to know what that is? Or do you have some recipe and combine various "soils" together?


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    1. Hi Don,

      I do not have a recipe of my own, but if you search on the internet, you will run across many really good ones that you can make yourself. At the hardware store, if someone knows about plants, they'll be able to help you. They may even suggest mixing different types of products together to achieve the best results. Sounds like your plant is doing very well, so you're obviously taking good care of it!

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  3. Excellent information.I just purchsed one a week ago by the leaves already seem to be losing its shine and seem to ve yellowing a bit. They dont look as crisp as it was when I purchased it.breaks my heart to see it so. What could possibly be wrong with it.

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    1. It's hard to say what might be wrong without seeing the plant in person and without knowing your growing habits, but one guess would be that you might be giving it too much water. Yellowing leaves is sometimes an indication of that. Another guess would be that the plant is a little in shock since it's been moved to a new location. Give it a little time to settle in and then reassess.

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  4. How to take care of plants during holidays? Choose the pots; make sure there are holes in the bottom of your container to allow water to flow out freely, etc.

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  5. Leaves of Peperomia Obtusifolia Variegata turned black: anyone knows why pl?

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    1. It is hard to say since I don't know your houseplant growing habits. Black leaves occur for several reasons, including diseases and problems with watering or fertilization.

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  6. Just bought today. My ignorance I planted in large plastic container. Do you think it will survive?

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    1. Only with careful care. Why not just plant it in another pot?

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