Companions

When I am weary of humans, I look to nature and digging in the dirt for hope and connection to creation. And I am reminded always that I am a part of that dirt, that I am one bit of nature, along with nematodes, fungal filaments, plants and people. That recognition prepares me to again seek human companionship, at least with simpatico family and friends. That sense of connection bolsters hope and strength to re-engage with the harsher aspects of the human world.

Or not!

Sticking with the gentler elements of nature, where interdependence is a given and dominance can only take you so far, I’ll focus on the natural companionship of three native plants currently abundant at Tadpole Haven: Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), Bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis a.k.a. Cornus canadensis) and Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii). In the interest of brevity, I’ll tackle just one today: Piggy-back Plant.

This moisture-loving perennial inspires sentiment in those who grew up playing in the woods west of the Cascade Mountains. And who wouldn’t love a plant with a name like that? The very name says friendliness, helpfulness and mutuality. Little kids love this cute, easy-to-recognize plant. And a number of older people have come to the nursery just to buy Piggy-back because it reminds them of when they were small.

Practical information:

In early summer new plantlets form at the base of the mature heart-shaped leaves. As the “mama” leaves get heavy with their own weight and the weight of the baby leaves, they settle to the ground and root. In this way, they gradually spread and make a nice ground cover.

The foliage gets about 12-15” tall, but the thin flower stalks sprout up another foot or so, bearing inconspicuous purplish flowers. It grows well in full shade to partial sun, in moist to soggy soil that has lots of organic matter.

Great in a woodland setting under Big-leaf (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maples (Acer circinatum) or evergreen trees such as Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). It will also do well tucked in the shade of a fence or a garden shrub. It makes a great houseplant for children who enjoy the idea of baby leaves riding the mommy and daddy leaves.

Along those lines, Piggy-back Plant is also known as “Youth-on-Age”: as the old leaf deteriorates into the soil, it nurtures the new leaf. Hard to miss the reminder of mortality, but it is a gentle reminder, especially if you are lucky enough to know a child who is happy to point out this playful-looking plant.