The friendship plant is only found growing wildly in parts of China but is easily cultivated indoors. | Gettyimages.com

Throughout human history, the gifting and trading of plants has been a way for people to connect. A 2018 study published in Science Daily discussed an analysis of plant remains found at a site in Uzbekistan containing species exotic to the area. The site, dating back to 800 A.D., coincides with the popularity of the Silk Road, the trade route connecting Eastern and Western worlds. This study is one of many that demonstrates the cultural importance of exchanging plants for crop production, medicinal purposes and even ornamental reminders of far away lands. 

Toni Reale | File Photo

Today, plant parents everywhere have likely experienced the joy of sharing one of their beloved plants. Many houseplants are easy to propagate. Pothos, philodendrons and other trailing plants typically are cut below a node and placed in water. This cutting will eventually develop a root system, provided the water is changed out once a week, and can then either be kept in water or planted in soil. Other plants such as snake plants and ferns, can be shared by division. Once the plant is mature enough, remove the plant from the pot and break apart the root system to share.

Pilea peperomioides (commonly called Chinese Money Plant, Friendship Plant, Missionary Plant or UFO plant) is a unique plant that recently resurged in popularity for its interesting leaf morphology and ease of propagating. This evergreen plant is only found growing wildly in parts of China in low- to mid-altitude forests but is easily cultivated indoors.

This plant has a very interesting history and was largely unknown to the Western world until it was commercially grown in the late 2010s. Records show the first Westerner to collect this specimen was George Forrest, a Scottish botanist who explored the depths of the biologically diverse Yunnan province of China in the early 1900s. It was later scientifically named and forgotten for decades as the plant itself has no real economic or medicinal use.

In the 1980s, cuttings of this plant were sent into the Royal Botanic Gardens for identification. Many scientists had not seen the plant before but realized that people throughout England were growing this as an indoor plant. In an effort to figure out how the plant got to England, an illustrated article was published in 1983 asking the public to submit stories on how they received the plant.

It turned out that in the mid 1940s, a Norwegian missionary named Agnar Espegren brought a few clippings of Pilea peperomioides from China back to Norway after all missionaries were asked to leave China. He shared some of the clippings with family and friends, further spreading them around Europe. 

This pilea became popular once again about 10 years ago and you can find hundreds of thousands of posts with the hashtag #PILEAPEPEROMIOIDES.

How to care for and share your friendship plant

Bright, indirect light is best. Direct sunlight can cause damage. The plants can tolerate lower light, but will not thrive and grow as well. These plants grow towards the light, so rotating your plant regularly will ensure a full plant all around.

Similarly as you’d care for succulents, let this plant completely dry out between waterings and avoid overwatering. Well-drained soil also is important. This plant does not need to be fertilized, but if you choose to do so only lightly fertilize in early spring. 

Pileas produce baby plants or “pups” at the base of the mother plant or will pop up from the soil. To propagate these pups, wait until they are about two to three inches in size. Don’t pull them out of the soil, but rather use sharp snips to cut the pup from the mother plant or soil. Cut as close to the base as you can get without hurting other pups or the mother plant. Place your pup directly into moist soil or into water. Roots typically appear two to four weeks after propagation.

Toni Reale is the owner of Roadside Blooms, a unique flower and plant shop in Park Circle in North Charleston. It specializes in weddings, events and every day deliveries using nearly
100 percent American- and locally grown blooms. Online at roadsideblooms.com.
4610 Spruill Ave., Suite 102, North Charleston.


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