In Pursuit of the Piggy-back

I have been forced to get out into the woods this week – what a hardship – to look at our family’s forest area adjacent to the nursery.  My daughter and I are enrolled in WSU Extension’s Forest Stewardship Coached Planning course, which is helping us create a forest plan.  So we need to traipse around the property, identifying different stands of vegetation, checking on tree health, figuring out what wildlife features we have – snags, downed logs, etc.  Even if you have only a couple of acres, this class is a terrific way to gain knowledge of trees, ecosystems and forest resources.  And it potentially qualifies your property for a tax break.

 I love the trees, but my eyes are always drawn to the little understory plants.  Everything is finally popping up, and one of the plants I see frequently is Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii).  The Piggy-back Plants that are in the nursery waiting for homes are descendants of our forest’s Piggy-backs.

Piggy-back Plant has ardent fans: one customer first came to Tadpole Haven in pursuit of the Piggy-back.  She had fallen in love with them in California when they were popular houseplants in the 60s, and while living in southern Oregon, visited the Puget Sound area and was amazed to see them growing wild and lush in the forests here.  So when she retired to this area, she was excited to take home two plants for her small yard.  Now she has a rock wall that is populated with Piggy-backs.

 Piggy-back Plant’s appeal is in its lush growth and playful appearance: tiny leaves perch on large older leaves – riding piggy-back.  It is also called “Youth-on-Age”.  As the new leaf grows at the base of the old, their collective weight eventually causes the pair to settle onto the ground.  The new leaf has already sprouted anticipatory roots and as its host decomposes, forms a brand new plant.  The purply-brown flowers are not showy, but have a graceful feathery look, stretching above the foliage, up to 3’ tall.  In the fall, as the spent flower stalks collapse, they too will often sprout piggy-back leaves and roots at the nodes.  You may often see Piggy-back in quite wet spots in the forest, but it does fine in drier shady spots where the soil retains moisture.

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One Response

  1. […] Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii).  You know I love piggys (see In Pursuit of the Piggy-back).  They are a fun shade loving […]

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