Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)

American Rubber Plant, Baby Rubberplant, Baby Rubber Plant, Oval Leaf Peperomia

If you’re looking for a houseplant that’s easy to grow but doesn’t compromise on looks, you’ve found it. Although the baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia) does produce flowers, the species is mostly grown for its pretty, shiny foliage. And you don’t need to be a houseplant expert to grow this one! Keep reading for everything you need to know about Peperomia obtusifolia care and growing a baby rubber plant in your own home.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Peperomia obtusifolia, also known as the baby rubberplant, American rubber plant, or pepper face, is a species of flowering plant in the genus Peperomia under the family Piperaceae, native to Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean. The specific epithet obtusifolia means “blunt-leaved”. The plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

The baby rubberplant is an evergreen perennial growing to 25 cm (10 in) tall and broad with cupped leathery leaves and narrow spikes of white flowers up to 12 cm (5 in) long, which grow in a shiny, winding manner and constitute the main decorative value of the plant.

P. obtusifolia is often confused with Peperomia magnoliifolia, and some earlier botanists considered these two names merely synonyms for the same species. As dried specimens, the plants can look highly similar, though the difference can be seen more easily with living plants: P. obtusifolia leaves are waxy, while P. mangoliifolia leaves are considered fleshy. Due to the confusion, plants in collections or on sale may be falsely labelled.

With a minimum temperature of 15 °C (59 °F), the baby rubberplant must be grown indoors in most temperate regions. Although it needs high humidity, it does not require much care. Good lighting is enough to maintain the bright and intense colour of the leaves, though direct light causes discoloration. The stem is fleshy, so the plant does not need abundant or frequent watering. A popular houseplant, numerous cultivars have been developed, some of which show leaf variegation.

In general, the baby rubberplant is a resistant plant, though it can have problems with aphids and mealybugs. As with most houseplants, excessive watering can cause root rot.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Lighting depends on what type of Baby Rubber plant you’re dealing with. Do you have the one with green leaves? Then, they thrive in bright indirect light and need shelter from the direct sun. For indoor placement, you can put them at the east or west-facing window.

The color-leafed or variegated Peperomia obtusifolia prefers a bright spot with only a few hours of the morning and late afternoon sun. If the room has a low light condition, you have to provide additional artificial light sources.

One sign that your variegated peperomia needs more light is if the leaves are starting to lose their variegation. If that happens, expose your Peperomia obtusifolia variegata to sunlight for 2 to 6 hours.

Temperature and Humidity

Peperomia obtusifolia is the perfect plant for a bright, steamy bathroom. They thrive in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit—if your house regularly dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this isn’t the plant for you.

Keep your baby rubber plant away from blasting heating or AC units and draughty windows too. If you don’t have your humidity-loving plant in a steamy bathroom, consider misting the leaves and using a pebble tray with water under the plant, especially during their active growth period in the summer.

Watering

You can water Peperomia with less difficulty. Just wait for the top layers of the soil to dry. Once you observe this, you may proceed with watering your Peperomia obtusifolia. However, don’t allow for the rest of the ground to totally dry up.

During winter, you can give your plant less water. Make sure to use tepid, distilled, or rainwater. While watering, it is best to water the ground directly and not the fleshy leaves or the stems. So, watering from below works better.

Remember that this houseplant is succulent-like. It has the ability to store water in its leaves and stems and efficiently use them during drought conditions. Thus, overwatering should be avoided to prevent the roots from rotting. Normally, watering peperomia once a week will already suffice.

Soil

Baby rubber plants might thrive in moist conditions, but these epiphytic species don’t like to have wet feet, which leads to root rot. This means whatever medium you put them in needs to be well-drained. They aren’t too fussy about type but do best in a loose, fertile potting mix. A mix of 2 parts peat and 1 part perlite or sand will do the job.

Fertilizing

You can provide your Rubber Plant, Peperomia obtusifolia with a balanced fertilizer twice a month during spring and summer. Always use a houseplant fertilizer that’s diluted to half of its original strength.

In winter, only feed your plant once a month. It’s best not to overfeed because this plant is not a heavy feeder, after all. Too much fertilizer could just lead to brown spots on the leaves.

In the first year of cultivation or after transplanting, it won’t be necessary to provide fertilizer. You can start fertilizing only a year after. Some great options are worm compost followed by a light compost layer during spring. Only a 1/4 inch of each is enough for this small plant.

Pruning

With its bushy habit, you might want to cut back the foliage occasionally to maintain a tidy shape. Pinching the tips of stems helps to encourage new, healthy growth and saves your plant from starting to look overly leggy.

Removing dead and dying foliage also helps direct energy to healthy, growing leaves and keeps your baby rubber plant looking its best.

Propagation

The best way to propagate your Baby Rubber plants is through stem tip cuttings. Follow these steps:

Stem Tip Cuttings

  • From the mature, healthy stems of the Baby Rubber plant, make an 8cm long cutting with at least three leaves. Do this below the leaf node.
  • Before proceeding, remove the lower leaves.
  • Now, place the stem cuttings in a fresh potting mix. You have the option to dip them in a rooting hormone before you plant them.
  • Once the cuttings are planted, place a plastic bag to form a dome over it. This will help keep the moisture intact around the newly propagated plant.
  • Place them in a bright warm spot but not in direct sunlight.
  • Keep the ground moist but not overly wet. Wait for the roots to develop. It will take about 5 weeks.
  • Remove the dome from time to time to water and help prevent mold build-up.
  • You can remove the dome totally after the cuttings have shown signs of new growth such as emerging leaves.

Potting and Repotting 

You’re not going to have to repot your baby rubber plant all that often—this compact plant doesn’t have an extensive root system. Once every few years is usually enough. If the roots are starting to grow out of the pot’s drainage holes or the soil is lifting off the sides of the pot, it’s an indication the plant is outgrowing its current home. Repotting in the spring before the main growing season is best. Don’t opt for a pot that’s too big or deep as this can contribute to too much water absorption, and waterlogging can become a problem.

Pests and Diseases

One of the best things about Peperomia obtusifolia care is that these plants don’t tend to have many issues. That being said, you still need to keep an eye out for the usual insect pests, like mealybugs or spider mites.

Thankfully, with rubber plants being so small, getting rid of unwanted visitors is not too much of a challenge. If you do see any pests hanging out on the leaves, you can just bring affected plants to the sink and blast them off under the faucet. That’ll teach ’em!

When it comes to the leaves, you’ll need to watch out for the usual problems. Yellowing, wilting, browning and leaf drop can be caused by both over- and underwatering, so you’ll have to scrutinize your watering habits. If it was overwatering you might have to repot your baby rubber plant and remove any roots affected by rot.

One issue that I had with my baby rubber plant was edema, which fortunately is pretty common in houseplants and more unsightly than anything else. If you’re a bit bad about watering (watering both too late or too early on a regular basis), you can accidentally confuse the roots into taking up more water than they can handle. This can cause baby rubber plant leaves to show scabbing, especially on the underside, as cells burst due to the excess liquid.

III. Types of Baby Rubber Plant

There are many baby rubber plant cultivars to choose from, including a wide selection of variegated options. Some popular options include:

  • Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Alba’: The young plants have stems tinged with red and an attractive creamy white variegation that gradually fades to green as it matures.
  • Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Gold Tip’: Marbled variegation that turns a gold shade towards the tip.
  • Peperomia obtusifolia ‘Minima’: Particularly compact form with small, dense green foliage.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

Baby rubber plant is grown for its attractive, meaty, blunt foliage in tropical gardens. The existence of many variegated hybrids makes it even more of a favourite. Because of its low and lush growth, it is used as a front-row plant and works well as a ground cover in bright but semi-shaded locations. Also, baby rubber plant is even more popular as a houseplant.

Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia) Details

Common name American Rubber Plant, Baby Rubberplant, Baby Rubber Plant, Oval Leaf Peperomia
Botanical name Peperomia obtusifolia
Plant type Herbaceous Perennial
Hardiness zone 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b
Growth rate Medium
Height 0 ft. 6 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
Width 0 ft. 6 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Cream/Tan
Leaf color Cream/Tan