Cannon Fire in the Kitchen

Artillery plant (Pilea microphylla). Photo:

Here’s a neat little trick you can try with a houseplant, but be forewarned: it’s very subtle. You may definitely need to be wearing your glasses to appreciate it. 

All you need is an artillery plant (Pilea microphylla) and a watering can.

The flowers are incredibly tiny, but filled with pollen. Photo: James Bailey,

The artillery plant is a small houseplant in the Urticaceae family with arching stems, tiny tear-shaped leaves and a fine-textured, fern-like appearance. This neotropical species is actually a garden weed in tropical climates! Its flowers are tiny, but do something quite remarkable: when you let the plant approach the point of dryness, then water it on a sunny day, a few seconds later, it will explosively produce puffs of yellow pollen, whence the name artillery plant. Few plants move so rapidly … and on command, at that.

Other pileas will do the same thing, but most flower only rarely. The advantage of the fast-rowing artillery plant is that is almost always has flowers at the ready. They may be insignificant, but they’re there!


A larger leafed variety. Photo:

The artillery plant is not hard to grow. Average indoor conditions suit it just fine: bright to moderate light, normal indoor temperatures (it’s very fragile to cold), watering when the soil is dry, etc. It does, however, appreciate high humidity, so in winter, when the air in most homes is very dry, place it on a pebble tray or in a terrarium.

Don’t waste fertilizer on this one: it finds all the minerals it needs in most potting soils.

The artillery plant is short-lived: it’s an annual in the wild and tends to collapse fairly quickly once it’s reached its full size, so take cuttings every now and then. Just press a short section of stem into moist potting soil: it roots very readily.

Variegated artillery plant (Pilea microphylla ‘Variegata’. Photo: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons

There are several clones on the market, some with larger (but still tiny) leaves, others with variegation. And there’s a bit of confusion as to its name. P. mucosa (also P. muscosa) is simply another name for P. microphylla. It is unclear whether P. serpyllacea, a name given to plants with larger leaves, is a separate species or not.

So, go ahead: blow off a little steam by firing off a few rounds of artillery plant. No harm done!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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