The Symbolic Meaning and Cultural Significance of Chinese Money Plants

It’s not hard to see why Pilea peperomioides is such a popular plant amongst indoor gardeners. Also known as the UFO plant or Chinese money plant, this attractive houseplant has round, coin-shaped leaves atop gently arching stalks and offers lots of uses and benefits. It’s also relatively easy to grow and very easy to propagate, thanks to its habit of sending up “pups” or offspring. But there’s more to this plant than its aesthetic appeal; the Chinese money plant also carries significant cultural significance around the world. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about Pilea peperomioides meaning and symbolism. 

The Meaning & Symbolism of Pilea peperomioides Plants – The Essentials

Pilea peperomiodes has long been valued for their association with financial success and good fortune. In its native southwestern China, the plant’s round-shaped leaves resemble coins and are thought to attract money and prosperity and feature prominently in Feng Shui practices. Its ability to produce pups also stands for friendship; overall, the plants bring abundance into one’s life.

About Pilea peperomioides Plants

About Pilea peperomioides Plants

Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

Pilea peperomiodies is a member of the Pilea genus, which contains more than 700 species. Pilea belongs to the Urticaceae family, also known as the nettle family.

These plants grow in sub-tropical and tropical regions worldwide, with a few growing in temperate environments in New Zealand and Australia. Most are succulents that thrive in partly shaded conditions.

Several members of the Pilea genus are prized for their ornamental foliage, including:

P. cadierei or aluminum plant, P. involucrate or the friendship plant, P. microphylla or the artillery plant, P. nummulariifolia or creeping Charlie, and, of course, P. peperomioides. This popular houseplant has several common names, including the Chinese money plant, UFO plant, missionary plant, and pancake plant.

Botanical Characteristics

P. peperomioides is prized for its round, coin-shaped foliage. The thick, deep green leaves reach about 4 cm in diameter. A single leaf gently waves atop an arched petiole. The stalks emerge from a thick, central stem that may be dark green or brown.

Mature plants may grow up to 12 inches tall and wide and will need repotting every 18 months or so. Though they rarely flower when grown indoors, P. peperomioides’ blossoms are pale green with a tinge of pink.

History & Origins of Pilea peperomioides

History & Origins of Pilea peperomioides

P. peperomioides was collected from its native habitat in mountainous southwestern China by Scottish botanist George Forrest in 1906. In Yunnan province, the plant has long been cultivated as an ornamental. Forrest returned to the Tangshan range four years later and brought more specimens back to Europe.

The plants slowly spread across western Europe, but for many years, their origin was a mystery. In 1978, an English botanist analyzed flowers from a P. pepermioides houseplant in the UK and determined that it was, indeed, a Chinese species of the Pilea genus.

But how the plants made their way to the UK was still unknown. In the 1980s, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew put out an ad asking for anyone who had information about the origins of these plants to come forward. Among the responses was a note from a family in Cornwall who had employed a Norwegian nanny in the 1960s.

The family had traveled to Scandinavia to visit the nanny’s family, receiving a cut that they took back to England. A Swedish botanist got wind of the mystery and asked for tips. More than 10,000 letters poured in, and one proved to be the missing link.

In 1946, Agnar Espergren, a Norwegian missionary, had returned from travels in China and India with a plant. He subsequently traveled throughout Norway, giving pups from the plant to many friends. Over time, the plant spread across Scandinavia, where it was called, appropriately, the “missionary plant.”

There are a few cultivars of P. peperomioides ‘Sugar’ and ‘White Splash’. Both have variegated white and green foliage. The cultivar ‘Mojito’ has variegated foliage with streaks of white and gray that look like marble.

Etymological Meaning

In 1912, the German botanist Friedrich Diels named the species P. peperomioides. Pepermiodies translates to “peperomia-like,” a nod to the plant’s round foliage.

What Regions are Pilea peperomioides Native to?

P. peperomioides are native to the southwestern Sichuan and Yunnan provinces of China. They grow at relatively high altitudes in the Himalayan foothills, where they thrive in the dappled light and rich, yet sometimes dry, soil on the forest floor.

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Pilea peperomioides

The Meaning, Symbolism and Cultural Significance of Pilea peperomioides (Chinese Money Plants)

The common name for the P. peperomiodies plant — the Chinese money plant — gives a hint about its symbolism. The plant’s coin-shaped leaves are associated with prosperity and good luck.

It’s thought that having Chinese money plants in the home is an excellent way to attract wealth and financial success. But where the plants are placed matters.

In the tradition of Feng Shui, placing a P. peperomioides in a northwestern corner of a room or of a home draws positive energy that facilitates good fortune. In Feng Shui practice, there are five elements: wood, fire, earth, water, and metal. Chinese money plants are aligned with “wood,” which is in turn aligned with action and growth. In this case, the Chinese money plant’s coin-shaped leaves symbolize abundance and the growing of wealth.

Placing your Pilea pepermioides in the northwest sector of a room is thought to improve your luck and financial success. The Feng Shui Bagua map lays out the sectors of a home, office, or room into different energy zones. Placing a P. peperoimides plant in the Xun section, which is linked to wealth and prosperity, will boost financial stability.

A few myths and folklore surround P. peperomioides. Some legends say that placing a coin in the plant’s pot will help “grow” more coins. Other legends say that if you have a Chinese money plant at home, you’ll find coins on the ground wherever you go.

But the Chinese money plant’s symbolism isn’t all about finances. It’s also associated with friendship. Because the plant propagates itself so easily, sending up multiple offshoots or “pups,” people often give the baby plants away. This has earned P. peperomioides the nickname of the Friendship Plant.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Pilea peperomioides Plants

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Pilea peperomioides Plants

P. peperomioides plants are the perfect gift when you want to wish someone good luck or congratulate them on a job well done. Chinese money plants can be gifted on occasions like new jobs, graduations, and birthdays. They also make lovely housewarming gifts.

If someone is ill or feeling down, a P. peperomioides plant can help cheer them up. With its gently bobbing leaves, this happy-looking little plant adds a sense of joy to any room.

Pilea peperomioides FAQs:

What does a Pilea peperomioides plant symbolize? 

Chinese money plants symbolize prosperity, abundance, good fortune, and financial success, thanks to their coin-shaped leaves. They’re also associated with friendship thanks to their habit of producing many offshoots that are easy to transplant and give away to friends.

Are Pilea peperomioides lucky? 

P. peperomiodies are definitely associated with good luck and fortune. In Feng Shui, they attract positive energy that boosts wealth and abundance.

How long do Pilea peperomioides plants live for? 

Under the proper environmental conditions — bright indirect light, the right amount of water, rich, acidic soil — a Pilea peperomioides plant can live up to 10 years.

Are Pilea plants easy to care for? 

Chinese money plants are relatively easy to care for. They require watering only when the top two inches of soil feel dry, only need repotting once every other year, and need fertilizing only during growth periods (spring and summer). Keep an eye out for common Pileas pests and diseases.

The Final Word

With their coin-shaped foliage and happy aesthetic, it’s not hard to see why Pilea peperomioides plants are associated with prosperity, abundance, and good fortune. These attractive houseplants are rich in meaning and symbolism and are also known as the friendship plant, thanks to their self-propagating habits. Add a Chinese money plant to the northwestern corner of your home or office to improve your luck!


Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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