Gardening

Cannon Fire in the Kitchen

Artillery plant (Pilea microphylla). Photo: http://www.plantingman.com

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, inaturalist.ca

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!

Care

A larger leafed variety. Photo: littleprinceplants.com

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!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Cannon Fire in the Kitchen

  1. Now, I would say that sounds silly, but when my #4 sister was a little tyke, she enjoyed prodding matured fruits of Imptiens oliveri because they exploded to disperse their seeds.

  2. Pingback: The Pass-Along Pilea – Laidback Gardener

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