Growing Psychotria viridis


Growing Psychotria viridisNatural Growing Conditions

Psychotria viridis is native to the Amazonian lowlands, but is also cultivated throughout northern South America and much of Central America. It is an evergreen tropical tree or large shrub growing in full sun to half shade. It has large (up to 24cm) leaves, which are oval with pointed tips. Its small brown seeds are shed from red berries. It usually grows in very rich and fertile soils.

Growing from Seed

Everybody seems to agree that it is very difficult to germinate Psychotria viridis seeds. I’ve heard of so many failures, including someone using a vaporizer as a propagator to heat the seed(!?). Crazy! I have never tried though, it just doesn’t seem worth the trouble. I ended up buying a rooted cutting to save myself the hassle. If you really must grow from seed, I would recommend using a variation of this technique:

  • Soak the seeds for 15 minutes in a mild bleach solution.
  • Rinse off the bleach with sterile water.
  • Soak the seeds in sterile water for 24 hours.
  • Plant the seeds 8mm deep in vermiculite or a mixture of vermiculite and potting compost.
  • Water from below until the growing medium is moist throughout.
  • Place in a heated propagator away from direct sunlight and wait.

Growing from Cuttings

Cuttings, on the other hand are easy. Psychotria viridis clones well using a standard leaf cutting technique, so all you need is a fresh leaf to get you started.

Remove a large leaf from the plant complete with a full petiole (leaf stem). Take hold of the leaf by its peliole, bend it away from the stem and gently pull in the same direction until it breaks. The petiole should have a short tail which has pulled away from the stem. This will ensure that there is a large amount of cambium layer present, which is essential for root development.

Lay the leaf on a flat surface and cut it in half horizontally with a sharp sterile blade. Removing the top half of the leaf will cut down on evaporation from the leaf and retain moisture before roots form.

Prepare a free draining growing medium. Something like equal parts vermiculite, sand and potting compost would be about right. You may wish to 100% inorganic components to prevent moulds forming. Fill pots or seed trays with your growing medium, making small holes every 5-7cm with a matchstick or similar pointy thing. Place the leaves in the holes, petiole down, cut edge up. The leaves should be planted deep enough so that the petiole and about 0.5cm of the lower part of the leaf are covered.

Water, leave to drain, and place inside a heated propagator. If you have no propagator, place inside sandwich bags and leave somewhere warm. The cuttings should receive bright light, but not direct sunlight. Mist daily with a pump spray or similar. Water regularly, but ensure the growing medium never becomes waterlogged. If mould appears, treat with Cheshunt Compound, or any fungicide. Also remember to feed with fertilizer as per instructions on the pack.

The cuttings should be slowly acclimatized to drier, brighter conditions as soon as possible. When they are well established or overcrowded, they can be potted up individually.

Once Established

Unfortunately, I cannot give any advice on growing Psychotria viridis to maturity. The only plant I have grown dropped all its leaves and quickly died. The whole process took about a fortnight. I believe it was due to overwatering and large day/night temperature fluctuations. Que Sera Sera.

Since the above was written, there have been further developments with my dead Psychotria viridis plant. It was left on a cold bedroom windowsill throughout Winter. The soil got a bit moldy and eventually dried out. The growing tip was brown and dead. I gave up hope, but somehow or another, I never got round to throwing it in the compost bin. At the beginning of Spring, I noticed that the stem was still green. Just for the sake of it really, I decided to water it one more time, with the addition of some Cheshunt compound to stop the mould coming back. Within a week or two, new shoots had appeared on four nodes. It came back from the dead. It is currently sitting on a warm bathroom windowsill, being nursed back to health.


  1. I had planted my leaf with only about 2″ remaining out of the soil as per the instructions of the person I recieved it from. It has been a month and I’m still wondering if it was foolish of my to follow his instructions and not those that I had read (cutting the leaf). Where exactly do the new plants start on the leaf? I see little tails beginning to grow off the back vein. Are these the beginnings of my baby shrubs? Thank you for any advice you can offer.

  2. Somehow, I have had very good luck growing my P. Viridis while giving very little attention to it. I received a 4″ rooted cutting in the spring and decided to attempt growing it outdoors in a storage tote (clear sides, opaque top). I potted it in a 50/50 mix of perlite and peat moss. I live in Northernmost Utah, so the summers are very hot and dry, but it’s not a desert. I placed it in 70% shade under some bushes and trees where it received sunlight periodically throughout the day. To maintain humidity, I lined the bottom of the tote with about 2″ of perlite which had been soaked in water and drained. I also put some rocks in the container to act as thermal batteries. Typical daytime temperature in the container ranged from 90-115˚F and it was very happy. Temps above 105˚ caused the plant to sag. Humidity remained around 65-100%RH, though my hygrometer was not very accurate. I watered it only in the hottest months. Most of the time I just mist it with a handheld spray bottle. When humidity got too low and it got too cold (around 30˚F), the plant lost its waxiness and lustrous green and was not so turgid, but when I began to properly tend it again, it immediately perked back up and became very waxy and shiny again, almost glowing.

    Now, I keep it in a tall humidity tent indoors near a south-facing window with a tapestry on it for shade and it has never been happier. It is almost 24″ tall and many new nodes are appearing. I think I will begin pinching it back to promote branching, and I will begin fertilizing with some kind of compost tea. I have taken some leaf cuttings, but I did not peel back to expose more cambium – I hope they still take root. I stuck them with no IBA in 50/50 perlite/peat and put them in the humidity tent with their mother. I’ve read you can grow dozens of plants from a single leaf, so I tried planting both halves of the leaf, both proximal end down, instead of just the portion with the petiole. In the future I may try a hormone dip with low concentration IBA, and I may try to stick the apical bud of the plant when I pinch it back to see if it takes root. I find vegetative propagation just amazing.

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