900 Peperomia obtusifoliaCommon Names: blunt-leaved peperomia, marble peperomia, baby rubber plant, pepper face, Florida peperomia, American rubber plant Family: Piperaceae (pepper Family)
Blunt-leaved peperomia grows as a low shrubby looking creeping groundcover or as an epiphyte. It has vinelike elongated stems with leaves rising 6-9" above the soil or branch surface. Both stems and leaves are thick and fleshy with a smooth waxy surface. The long stalked 1-6" round to obovate leaves, which are dark green in wild forms, but often variegated in cultivated forms, are borne alternately. They are sometimes notched at the tips. The minute greenish white flowers are tightly packed on slender 2-4" vertical spikes carried on hairy erect stems. The tiny smooth oval fruits develop partially embedded in the spike with their hooked beaks protruding from it. Early Florida botanists confused this species with spatulate peperomia (Peperomia magnoliifolia), which usually grows as an epiphyte high in the branches of live oak trees in upland tropical hardwood forests. (Under a magnifying glass, that species can be distinguished by fruits beaked at the middle, rather than at the ends, and hairless stems at the base of the flower spikes.) 'Variegata' has red blotches on the stems and irregular creamy white areas around the outsides of its two-tone green leaves. 'Green and Gold' has large leaves variegated unevenly with gold rather than cream. 'Tricolor' has thick, leathery leaves with lots of cream variegation and deep pink edges. 'Sensation' has purple stems and big leaves splashed with gold. 'Alba" is an albino form with creamy yellow leaves and stems streaked with red. 'Lougenii' is a miniature with variegated foliage. 'Minima' is a short dense form with small dark green leaves. 'Albo-marginata' has creamy margins on pale green leaves with a milky sheen. 'Gold Tip' is an especially sturdy cultivar whose dark green leaves are increasingly marbled with gold towards the tips.
Seven species of Peperomia occur in South Florida; at least four are native.
Blunt-leaved peperomia, Peperomia obtusifolia, comes from the American tropics. It occurs in dense damp tropical hardwood forests and warm sheltered sloughs inside swamps on the Caribbean islands and in South Florida. The plants grow on stumps and tree trunks, in decaying wood and bark in the crevices of trees, or amongst logs and litter on the ground.
CulturePeperomias like a light, highly organic soil. A mix with lots of chipped bark and peat moss in it is ideal. Repot in early spring. Fertilize sparingly with a weak foliar spray. Avoid granular fertilizers that might burn the tender leaves. Peperomias are vulnerable to several diseases, which tend to spread rapidly through their succulent foliage. Plants with cercospora leaf spot have tan to black raised areas on the undersides of their leaves. Rhizoctonia leaf spot causes mushy dark brown to black irregular leaf spots with concentric raised and indented rings. Sometimes a web forms over the plants. Myrothecium leaf spots are watery areas of black and white rings that appears on wounded areas on the undersides of leaves. Phytophthora parasitica or pythium diseases cause the plants to rot at the soil line with mushy black tissue extending up into the leaves of the plants and down into the roots. The softened outer layers of the roots will then readily separate from the core. Sclerotium rolfsii causes a stem rot characterized by a brown mushy area with round tan brown spots and white fuzz at the soil line. Cuttings are especially vulnerable. Chemical treatments are available to control most of these diseases in the nursery, but home gardeners are probably wiser to throw out infected specimens and infected soil, and start over with clean pots and new plants. Slugs and snails can also cause serious problems on peperomias. Light: Grow in filtered light or medium shade. An east window is recommended for indoor plants. Moisture: Blunt-leaved peperomia likes high humidity and moist soil, but not wet feet. Drench when the soil surface gets dry, but hold off a little longer in the winter when the plant is not in active growth. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. This is a sensitive tropical plant that cannot tolerate frost. Ideal growing temperatures are 62 F at night and 85 F in the daytime, but it will do well in warmer weather and is happy resting at cooler temperatures in the winter. Propagation: Peperomias are most easily propagated by division, but will also grow from stem or leaf cuttings.
This is a popular groundcover for tropical shade gardens or atriums, but it won't hold up where there is foot traffic.
Blunt-leaved peperomia is one of the few plants that is really well suited to indoor life. It will adjust to steamy greenhouses and dry windowsills, and does fine with only indirect light. This species is recommended as a "clean air houseplant" to remove formaldehyde from indoor air. It is also suggested for landscaping vivarium habitats for captive tropical amphibians. Tolerance for muggy conditions makes it a good choice for bottle gardens too.
Blunt-leaved peperomia can be mildly toxic to some animals, but is generally considered safe around pets and children.
Peperomia obtusifolia is an Endangered Species and should not be collected from the wild. Three other species of peperomia that occur naturally in South Florida are also legally protected as Endangered Species by the State of Florida: P. glabella, P. humilis and P. magnoliifolia.
Steve Christman 01/06/01