What Are Radiator Plants and Where Do They Get Their Name?
The MVPs of the houseplant world.
What we call radiator plants are species belonging to the genus Peperomia. They’re not-so-distant relatives of the plants that produce the kitchen staple black pepper. These are heat-loving plants native to tropical and subtropical regions. Radiator plants vary in appearance, though many have small, flat leaves, and thick stems. They’re generally compact plantings, making them good choices for indoor gardening, hanging baskets, containers, and greenhouses.
It is commonly agreed that they received their common name from American horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey, who—according to Charles Bixler Heiser in his 1985 book Of Plants and People—dubbed the species belonging to the Peperomia genus “radiator plants.” It’s an apt name, as the plants appreciate warm air and sunlight, though they can tolerate both wet and dry climates.
Peperomia species are grown for their attractive and vibrant ornamental foliage, which comes in an array of shapes and colors. Often, their leaves are rounded and shaped like hearts, though some have elongated, pointed leaves. Much of the foliage of Peperomia species is bright green, but it can also be striped, spotted, or marbled. Some also produce flowers and berries.
These plants are easy to grow indoors, and most won’t grow over a foot in height. They don’t take up much room, and they don’t need very attentive care. Provide your radiator plants with medium to full sunlight and occasional watering. A good rule of thumb is to water your plants once the soil has dried out completely (it should feel dry to the touch). They’re fairly drought tolerant, and they grow just fine without any interference from fertilizer.
Popular species of radiator plants include Peperomia argyreia (P. sandersii), also known as watermelon peperomia, which has red stems and rounded leaves that are green and silver. They also produce green flowers. Peperomia caperata is known by the common name emerald ripple peperomia, and it produces white flowers, pink stems, and waxy green leaves. Peperomia obtusifolia (a.k.a baby rubber plant) has deep green foliage that’s oval-shaped and can be marbled with white, in the case of P. obtusifolia ‘Variegata.’
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Do you grow radiator plants in your home? What’s your favorite type of houseplant?