Monthly Archives: November 2013

Plant Profile: Piggyback Plant (Tolmiea menziesii)

As the days draw in, and we spend more time indoors, there’s at least one Washington native plant  that can join us there. The Piggyback Plant is a well-known and popular native that survives as a houseplant. Are there others that have worked for you?

Why it’s choice: Bring a spot of woodland into the house with Piggyback Plant. This herbaceous perennial can thrive in a shady garden dell or in an indoor hanging basket. Look for small new plantlets “piggy-backing” at the base of each leaf.


piggyback plant

The Piggyback Plant, Tolmiea menziesii. Photo: Starflower Resources, WNPS.

What it can do in the garden: Piggyback Plant’s mounds of scalloped leaves make it a handsome semi-evergreen groundcover in shade or part sun. Slender flower stalks in April to June grow one to three feet tall, and sport small, odd, chocolate-purple flowers. Tolerant of wet soil, Piggyback Plant weaves well with other woodland dwellers, such as Fringe Cup or Lady Fern.  There’s at least one cultivar, too:  ‘Taff’s Gold’ has lighter, brighter-colored, and variegated leaves.

Where to see it: Throughout western Washington, you’ll find Piggyback Plant in damp forests and on creek banks from the lowlands up to mid-elevations. You can find it in many urban parks as well as the occasional bank or hotel lobby.

The facts: Piggyback Plant grows from spreading underground stems, and it’s happiest in shade. In the garden, water it for the first two seasons for best growth. Indoors, give Piggyback Plant regular water and keep it out of direct sun. It’s easy to propagate all year, from plantlets, seeds, or pieces of the underground stem.

And, hey, it’s unique! Piggyback Plant is what botanists call monotypic. They mean that in the scientific genus Tolmiea, there’s only one species, Tolmiea menziesii. Named after two early botanical collectors in the region, William Fraser Tolmie of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Archibald Menzies of Vancouver’s expedition, Piggyback Plant is native to only one part of the world—western North America.