Native to Central and South America, these perennials belong to the same family as Piper nigrumthe source of black pepper. Small and compact, they rarely exceed 1 ft. in height and are grown for their highly ornamental foliage. Some are trailing, others upright; most feature stout, fleshy stems and leaves. Tiny flowers are borne on erect, cordlike spikes, usually in late summer.
P. argyreia (P. sandersii). WATERMELON PEPEROMIA. To 612 in. tall, not quite as wide. Rounded to oval leaves to 5 in. long and 4 in. wide; they are shiny green above and pale green beneath, with silver blotches between the veins. Leaves are held on short red stems. Green flowers appear on spikes 23 in. tall.
P. caperata. EMERALD RIPPLE PEPEROMIA. Compact plant to 6 in. tall and wide. Short, pinkish red stems hold tufts of heart-shaped, rich green, waxy leaves to 2 in. long. White flowers are borne on 2- to 3-in.-tall spikes.
P. obtusifolia. BABY RUBBER PLANT. Bushy plant to 612 in. tall and wide, noted for its smooth, glossy, deep green foliage. Leaves reach 4 in. long and 212 in. wide, rounded to oval, notched at the tip. The leaves of 'Variegata' have wide, irregular margins of creamy white.
Peperomias are very tender to cold, with 55F being the minimum temperature they'll tolerate. Outdoors, place in light shade. Indoors, place in a bright window, but protect from hot afternoon sun, which will burn the leaves. Excellent drainage is essential, so make sure pots have adequate drainage holes. Let the soil go nearly dry between thorough waterings; feed twice a month with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength. Reduce watering and feeding in winter. Propagate by division or by taking leaf or stem cuttings in spring or summer. Frequent repotting isn't necessary peperomias prefer to be slightly pot bound.