Around these parts, we like to call Pilea “the friendship plant” and “the pass-it-on plant.” If treated with care, Pilea plants like to put out new babies (pups) at an alarming rate. When your Pilea reaches maturity, we guarantee you’ll find yourself giving a few pups away to your friends or other plant collectors.
This is also the simplest way to propagate Pilea plants, and we have a guide of best practices in this post.
But can you propagate Pilea from a leaf?
Yes and no. Let’s dive deeper into this answer.
In our experience, plant parents will ask us this question when one or two things happen: either a Pilea leaf falls on its own or the leaf is accidentally pulled off the stem. We’re sorry to report that in both of these scenarios the leaf cannot be propagated.
If a leaf falls on its own, that means something’s wrong with it (it’s often yellow or has some sort of disease), so the leaf is not viable as a starter for a new plant.
If the leaf is damaged mechanically (knocked off by a pet, a child or during a move), the leaf is still healthy. However, that’s not enough for it to be the starting point for a new plant.
And this is where the confusion stems. If you put a healthy leaf in water, it will grow roots, but that’s as far as it will go. It can live in water for a long time, but after a while (it could be months), the leaf will be spent. This means that it will turn yellow and die without having produced new pups. This is the end of the experiment.
Want to hear some good news? You CAN propagate Pilea from leaves, but you’ll have to be intentional about it.
Here’s the step-by-step process for propagating Pilea leaves:
- Step 1: Inspect your oldest Pilea plant and choose a healthy leaf that doesn’t have any spots or blemishes. A healthy leaf is a viable leaf, and it will increase your chances of success.
- Step 2: Using a sharp knife, cut the leaf off the stem of the mother-plant. But don’t just snap off the leaf from where the petiole attaches to the stem. Instead, cut a little bit of the stem with it (around 1 inch of stem, but no more than 2 inches). You can cut vertically with a downward motion, or you can cut at an angle from both sides.
So in the end you’ll be left holding a leaf with a little bit of stem attached to the petiole. By the way, the petiole is the little leaf stalk that attaches the underside of the leaf to the stem of the mother-plant.
Be extra careful when you maneuver the sharp knife. And make sure to support the mother-plant with either a stick or your hand. The stalks of mature plants are rather tough and inelastic, so you don’t want it to snap.
- Step 3: Put the part that you cut in a glass of water and place the vessel next to a window that gets bright indirect light. Change the water every week to improve oxygenation and prevent the accumulation of slime and dirt.
- Step 4: First, you’ll notice some roots appearing under water. That’s a great sign, and it should happen around the 1-2 week mark.
- Step 5: If the cutting was successful and the stem “took,” you’ll notice Pilea pups shooting out from the root ball, below the water surface. Congratulations on becoming a baby-Pilea parent! This might take up to a month or even longer, depending on environmental factors.
- Step 6: Once the pups grow to about 3 inches and have enough leaves to support themselves, it’s safe to transplant them to soil. When you do so, don’t separate the leaf that originated the growth from the babies. If the leaf is still green, that means it still has some good energy left to transfer to the newborn. And even if the leaf is yellow, let it come off by itself.
When you transplant the babies, don’t bury their leaves underneath the soil. That’s why we recommend you let them grow taller before moving them to soil. This also allows for plenty of time for the root system to develop.
Can you root a leaf directly in soil?
We recommend rooting it in water first to control the moisture. The leaf might dry out in soil.
What happens to the mother-plant after having a bit of stalk cut off?
Assuming you didn’t chop off too much, the mother-plant will not be affected. The cutting will scab over without any significant damage to the plant.
When should I propagate a leaf?
Pilea plants slow down their growth during the cold seasons, so don’t try this experiment in fall or winter. The best time to propagate a leaf is in spring and summer. This will allow the mother-plant enough time to bounce back. It’s also when the source leaf has the right temperature and amount of light to try to reproduce.
The entire process of propagating Pilea from a leaf cutting can take two months, so we still recommend the easier method of propagating it from offshoots or rhizomes. But if you want to have fun and experiment with your plant hobby, we fully support you in trying new things. Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work the first time.