Episode seventeen: Seeking Pilea peperomioides - why everyone wants the Chinese money plant

Pilea peperomioides  is the must-have houseplant right now. Have you got one? Photograph:  Maja Dumat  on  Flickr

Pilea peperomioides is the must-have houseplant right now. Have you got one? Photograph: Maja Dumat on Flickr

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Instagram is awash with it; but where do you lay your hands on a specimen of the Chinese money plant, Pilea peperomioides? If you are in many parts of the world, this plant is in such demand that they sell for fifty dollars or more for a small one. Despite the Chinese money plant’s superstar status, the story of how it came to be so popular isn’t so well known: it's a tale that takes in a street of houses in a London suburb, a Soho hairdresser, a Norwegian au pair,  a journalist at the Telegraph and a missionary to China. 

In this episode I find out more about this fabulous plant from Dr Phil Cribb of Kew Gardens, who helped track down its origins; I speak to Lacey Smith, a Texan who was so desperate for a Pilea that she contemplated smuggling one through customs; and I find out Pilea care tips from Mackenna Rowley, who set up a business with her husband as a result of a blossoming love affair with the Chinese money plant. 

Below are some useful links to find out more about Pilea peperomioides:

  • Read more about how Dr Cribb tracked down the origins of the plant in the UK on wildchicken.com.

  • If you are looking for a Pilea in the US, you may wish to join this Facebook group.

  • Follow @pilea.lovers on Instagram.

  • There's an interesting article by a horticultural consultant about how "the culture of possession is returning to the plant world" - as typified by the obsession with Pilea.

  • Check out my Instagram (@j.l.perrone) for video of my lovely new Pilea, courtesy of Lauren!

  • Check our Mackenna Rowley's Pileas and other plants at piep.co.

  • Tip: if you can't get hold of a Pilea pepermoioides, get a Peperomia bolybotrya 'Raindrop' from (it's the one on the far left in the pic on the IKEA site - the stripey watermelon peperomia is also highly desirable) or somewhere else. It's easier to get hold of, very similar in looks and - whisper it - just as nice.

  • And finally, this. One of the first people in the UK to grow Pilea peperomioides was the celebrity hairdresser Mr Teasy Weasy, but who was he? Here's his Wikipedia entry and this wonderful YouTube clip from British Pathe...

Question of the week

I needed to call in an expert for this question, so Tom of Tom's Carnivorous Plants came to the rescue. Check out his website for some awesome growing guides. 

Other resources: 

  • A fantastic video on pitcher plants from the inimitable David Attenborough.

  • Another video in which someone cuts open a Nepenthes.

  • More growing advice from California Carnivores.

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

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This week's show included Hot Lips by Bill Brown and His Brownies and Water in the Creek by  Josh Woodward, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License