Plant nurseries are a dangerous place for me. Well, not really me so much as my wallet. I am always on the lookout for new and interesting plant friends to bring home. I recently visited a local nursery that has 4 hoop houses worth of plants to ogle. As I was walking the crowded alleyways between row after row of botanical treasures, something tucked away in a back corner caught my eye. There was a stark juxtaposition between burgundy and deep green that I simply could not ignore. I tip toed around a variety of succulents, dracaena, and gesneriads to investigate this colorful curiosity.
As I approached this odd little plant I realized there was a long spike jutting out of the top. Ah, so this was some sort of peperomia. At this point I could see why it was kept among succulents. The leaves of this peperomia are quite succulent. Like fat little canoes, the leaves appeared to have green window-like surfaces that quickly gave way to a red bilge. This was truly unique. I had to have it.
Despite the fact that it was the only one of its kind, I got it for a steal. It wasn't planted very well so I had to be quite careful getting it home. Mixing up soil can be fun, especially when you know the plant you are catering to. This was not one of those cases. Regardless, the succulent nature of the plant hinted at a need for a well drained mix. Three parts gravel to one part compost should do the trick. Despite its size, the plant had an under-developed root system. This explains why it was so floppy on the ride home. Once it was in its new pot, I had to go about picking out a perfect spot on the shelf. I knew that plants like Crassulas and aloes turn colors under high light so I figured this would be my best bet at preserving the beauty of this specimen. I watered it and sat back to enjoy its beauty among all the other plants in the collection.
Later that day I began noticing an odd smell. It wasn't necessarily offensive yet it wasn't easily ignored either. It was also restricted to one area near the plant shelf. My nose didn't reveal the source. I put shoes outside and checked the area for anything that may be starting to rot. Nothing. After a while I must have gotten used to it and after a couple hours I forgot about it. Days went by and every once in a while the smell would creep its way into my nose. I was very confused and yet too busy to be serious about locating the source.
I like to show off my plants so I made sure to draw attention to this new peperomia any time someone dropped by for a visit. It seemed to resonate well with friends. After a series of inquiries into this plants identity I decided to do my homework. Simply referring to it as a mystery peperomia wasn't satisfying enough. Luckily the internet exists. A quick image search for "succulent red peperomia" gave me my answer.
My beautiful plant friend was none other than Peperomia graveolens, an endemic of mountainous forests in Ecuador. To my surprise, this is not a species that enjoys a lot of sun. The burgundy undersides are thought to assist the plant in soaking up as much sunlight as possible as it ekes out a living under the canopy. I guess I was going to have to move this plant to a lower shelf. The good news is that the soil mixture I made was going to work. There was no need to disturb the meager root system any more than I already had.
Apparently this species is only known from two wild populations. All of the plants in cultivation are descendants of collections made in 1973 by some German botanists. This is truly a special plant! As I was reading various plant care websites, a recurring theme in the writing caught my attention. The inflorescence of this species is said to have a "mousey odor." I have seen that term before but, even after years of working in pet stores, I couldn't quite picture what a mousey odor would be like. Urine perhaps? Then I realized something. That strange odor was still present in and around the plant shelf. Could this be what I was smelling? I carefully picked up the plant and gave it a sniff. Yep! There is was. I still don't think of mice when I smell it but I can see how such descriptive terms could be applied. Regardless, my introduction to this wonderful little plant has made it all the more interesting. This is one of the main reasons I keep house plants. My collection is my own little botanical garden that I fill with species that capture my imagination.