The Aluminium Plant – Pilea cadierei – has brightly coloured leaves that give rise to its name. The foliage is basically dark green base, but with striking silvery white markings covering most of the ovate leaf. The fact that the markings are raised or embossed adds a further attractive dimension.
It is sometimes known as the watermelon plant on account of the markings, with several watermelon varieties having similar markings on the fruit.
Pileas are often succulent, but not so Pilea cadierei. It is erect in growth habit with the tough upright stems normally fully clothed in the attractive foliage – though neglected plants can soon develop into a ‘canopy’ – none the less attractive. The branches eventually form a slightly woody base – helping its sturdy nature. The eventual height is 12in (30cm) with a slightly lesser spread.
It is found in habitats in SE Asia – but in Vietnam in particular where it grows comfortably in humid conditions rarely falling below 15 deg. It is typically perennial and evergreen in its native habitat, and considered as being robust in nature.
Warm humid growing conditions are ideal – but not normally easy to attain indoors at all times. Happy in semi shade rather then being sun-scorched on a windowsill, extra humidity can be provided by placing pot in or near a saucer of wet pebbles. Use a rich organic potting mix which allows good drainage.
Unlike some of the succulent foliaged Pileas, the Aluminium Plant requires watering weekly through the growing season; but never waterlogged. When watering, soak the compost, but ensure the good drainage normally associated with good compost. Include a weak liquid feed with the watering but NOT if the post compost has dried out.
During the winter months, watering should be less with no feeding included.
When the plant gets a little leggy – as it will do – the growth can be trimmed back. A good way is to trim back one in three branches throughout the growing season, which will allow for new growth with brightly coloured foliage. If too leggy, start again by trimming the whole plant back to within a few joints of the basal stem network. If this is done, then ensure that the feeding regime is continued to help the plant regain its former glory.
Can be grown as a stand-alone specimen plant, or included in a trough of mixed plants – either as a central dot plant, or as cover around the edge. Whichever, its foliage will probably outshine most other house plants.
Propagation is by soft tip cuttings in a warm enclosed pot or propagating tray. This is best carried out early in the growing season, rather than as an afterthought at end of summer!
This Pileaa is rarely troubled by pests, though aphids and red spider mite will indulge in the right conditions. Keep the plant in humid, but well aired situation to avoid red spider mite. The other Pileas often suffer from stem rot. Not so with this variety.