What is an Aluminum Plant?
The Aluminum Plant (Pilea cadierei) is also known as the watermelon pilea or the brass-aluminum plant. It is native to Burma and China but has spread throughout most of the world. This fast-growing houseplant gets its name because its leaves are said to be similar in color to aluminum foil.
History of Aluminum Plants
The scientific name for this interesting-looking plant is Pilea cadierei. Botanists gave it this name after Lieutenant Francois Oscar Monchamp, who collected it in Vietnam in 1887 during a French expedition; however, it wasn’t until much later that it was officially classified. In 1895, botanist Andre Michaux learned of the existence of this plant through Monchamp’s specimens and began searching for it in Asia.
Michaux thoroughly searched without luck in China, Japan, Cambodia, and Vietnam before finally learning from Vivien de Saint-Martin that a French consul general in Guangzhou had sent seeds back to France two years earlier, which were now growing at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The name Pilea cadierei was given after Monchamp, who discovered it 50 years earlier.
Gardeners worldwide have carefully cultivated the Aluminum plant since its introduction into Europe because of its beauty and ease of growth. It is often used as a houseplant because it is hardy, easy to propagate and maintain. It prefers bright light but can tolerate some shade.
Aluminum plants are attractive foliage plants with evergreen, heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. They have small white flowers that grow in more extended branched clusters at the ends of stems, usually appearing during the summer months. Due to their low water requirements, they require little care and are ideally suited for terrariums or dish gardens.
The aluminum plant was originally found growing naturally on rocky limestone cliffs among dense vegetation near waterfalls in Vietnam’s Kim Quang region at elevations between 300 to 450 meters high.
However, most commercially sold plants originate from cultivated plants that Monchamp collected in the 1890s. He collected many different types of plants on this expedition, with several ending up as new discoveries, such as the aluminum plant.
Since its introduction into Europe, Aluminum Plant (Pilea cadierei) has quickly become popular as an ornamental plant. However, it is now considered a weed and invasive species in many places throughout the world, including parts of the United States, where it was introduced to gardeners during the ’70s.
It can be hard to get rid of once it becomes established because cutting off the above-ground portions does little to stop its rapid growth. Today, aluminum plants are usually propagated by division or cuttings that are taken from vine-like stems that grow along tree branches or rocks.
Aluminum plants are considered poisonous and should be kept away from pets or children who might play with or ingest this plant. If consumed, they have the potential to cause minor stomach upset, so it is best to keep them out of reach.
How to Take Care of Aluminum Plants?
As with all plants, aluminum plant care begins with proper identification. Aluminum plants (Pilea cadierei) are small green plants that grow rather quickly. This type of plant is native to Asia, where it can be found growing on rocks and trees along streams and near waterfalls. It is also known as the water parachute plant or Chinese money plant.
The appearance of an aluminum plant is what gives it its name because the leaves closely resemble the color of an aluminum can. If cared for properly, this particular houseplant can thrive indoors in artificial light or outdoors under natural sunlight over the course of five years or more.
The major problem is that many plants require specific soil types to grow properly, and thus an incorrect choice can lead to poor growth or failure of the plant altogether. Aluminum Plant (Pilea cadierei) is one such plant that requires a special soil type adapted for its survival.
The soil used for growing aluminum plants should ideally consist of 2/3 sphagnum peat and 1/3 perlite. This will retain moisture very well yet drain fairly quickly and provide the aluminum plant with all of the essential nutrients it needs to grow properly.
The soil should also be acidic and slightly alkaline (with a pH of 4-6). If you cannot achieve this balance using chemicals, you can simply use vinegar or citric acid to make the soil more acidic and baking soda to make it less acidic (more alkaline) as required.
A rule of thumb when caring for your aluminum plant is to keep it moist at all times but not wet. Such a small plant is very sensitive to overwatering and can easily be killed by it.
To prevent this from happening, simply water your houseplant at least once each week or whenever the soil feels completely dry.
In addition to water, aluminum plant care includes providing your plant with adequate lighting, fertilizer, and air circulation. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why potted aluminum plants die is because they are kept inside in low-light environments for too long.
If placed outside on a table or another area where it will receive plenty of sunlight during the day, an aluminum plant should live for several years before needing replacement.
If you worry about sunburn on your foliage when placing this type of indoor plant in direct sunlight, keep in mind that aluminum plants require a lot of light to survive but not direct sunlight. In fact, direct sunlight can burn your aluminum plant’s leaves and cause it harm.
When caring for an aluminum plant indoors, place the pot on a windowsill where it will receive bright filtered or artificial light for at least half of each day. Keep in mind that too much shade will result in weak growth and straggly foliage.
This type of houseplant also benefits significantly from being repotted every other year, while young and smaller pots encourage better root development than bigger ones do.
When you take care of your aluminum plant, keep in mind that this is one type of indoor houseplant that requires only small amounts of fertilizer throughout the year to remain healthy. Applying a balanced liquid fertilizer once or twice each month during the growing season is all it takes for this type of plant to thrive indoors.
If your aluminum plant seems stunted and underdeveloped, you can give it a quick shot of plant food to help improve its health and appearance. However, if given too much, aluminum plants turn yellowish-green in color because the fertilizer causes damage to their roots.
Too much fertilizer also results in root rot, which kills potted indoor houseplants quickly no matter what type they are, preventing them from absorbing water properly.
Another reason why an aluminum plant might turn yellow is that it requires more humidity than it’s receiving where it is being kept. Aluminum plants are somewhat sensitive to dry air and can die if they don’t receive enough moisture. Fortunately, this type of houseplant doesn’t require misting because it dislikes having its leaves saturated with water.
If you notice sooty mold on your indoor aluminum plant’s foliage or it begins turning yellowish-green, the best thing you can do is take steps to increase the humidity around it by placing potted aluminum plants on groupings of pebble trays filled with water. Such a measure will help raise the humidity level in your home significantly while also providing adequate drainage for each pot in case it gets overwatered.
When to Repot Aluminum Plants?
The aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei) is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. They are very tolerant of shady, dark places, and they rarely need repotting. However, if you see roots growing out of the bottom holes in the container or if it appears overgrown, simply take these steps to repot your aluminum plant.
How to Repot Aluminum Plants?
- First, take your aluminum plant out of its container and remove the old soil from the roots.
- Trim any dead or dying roots and leaves with scissors, cutting them back to a healthy part of the root.
- If you notice that any rosettes have died and turned into mushy black goo, remove all dead parts and keep only the living part called pups. These will grow to replace dead plants, so don’t throw them away!
- Place your aluminum plant in your new pot at the same depth it was originally growing at before repotting.
- Add fresh soil around its base until it’s covered up to where the original stem emerges from the center of the rosette, then water thoroughly. Aluminum plants should be watered about once a week but take care not to overwater since they are very susceptible to root rot.
Take note, if you’re planning on repotting it in a larger pot, keep in mind that aluminum plants like to be slightly rootbound, so don’t up-pot it into something too big; I’d stick with only 1″ larger at minimum.
If the plant has gotten too tall, you can cut it back by about half to control its size without harming the plant. Just make sure to remove all of the leaves first so it will branch out more. Or, if you want, you could simply pinch/cut off new growth at the stem tips every couple of weeks to help promote bushier growth.