Piggy-back Plant

Small buds at the base of Tolmiea menziesii leaf blades develop into “daughter” plants which fall to the ground and root. This trait gives rise to many different common names including piggy-back plant, thousand mothers, pickaback plant and youth-on-age. Piggy-back plant also reproduces by rhizomes and seeds. A synonym is Tiarella menziesii.

A member of the Saxifrage Family (Saxifragaceae), piggy-back plant is an evergreen perennial that grows in moist, cool places below 6,000 feet. It can tolerate full or partial shade. Native to Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, piggy-back plant has naturalized in other areas, including Europe. Piggy-back plant is grown as an ornamental. Because it can survive in the low humidity of houses, it is also grown as a houseplant.

The hairy piggy-back plant stems arise from scaly rhizomes and often form a dense ground cover. The maple-shaped leaves are mostly basal, hairy and have membranous stipules.

The piggy-back plant inflorescence is a loose, many flowered raceme. The flowers are composed of 5 unequal, greenish purple sepals, three on the top and two lateral. The 4 chocolate purple petals are threadlike. The three stamens have broad filaments and yellow anthers and are located opposite the 3 larger sepals. The ovary is one-celled with 2 long unequal beaks.

Piggy-back plant fruits are capsules, project from a slit on the lower side of the floral tube and contain numerous, spiny, black seeds.

Native Americans used a poultice of fresh piggy-back plant leaves to treat skin boils. In early spring the small sprouts were eaten.

The genus is named after William Fraser Tolmie (1812 – 1886), a botanical collector in North America and a Hudson Bay physician at Fort Vancouver. Archibald Menzies (1754 – 1842), a botanist that explored the Pacific Northwest, is honored with the species designation.

The pictured piggy-back plants were photographed along Alder Basin Trail in Del Norte State Park CA in May.

I like these unusual and interesting flowers.

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